Customer Review

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Writing One's own Epitaph, 17 Jan 2003
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony 9 (Audio CD)
Mahler's 9th Symphony is one of the most poignant ever written by any composer. Mahler, who was in any case not known for bottling up his emotions within his music, was, at this stage of his life well aware of his rapidly failing health. For a composer who had explored the theme of man's mortality plenty of times in previous works, when he has in good health, one can imagine the kind of outpourings that this symphony gives rise to.
The highlight of the symphony's scoring is the immaculate fourth and final movement. Mahler returns to a device he used for his 3rd Symphony, which is score the final movement as an adagio. Most composers would want to leave the audience on a high, with a finale that is uplifting, optimistic or rousing. Mahler, in both the 3rd and 9th Symphonies wishes to leave us sombre and reflective! The whole movement flows the way in which Mahler wished his own epitaph to read - beautiful, gentle and yet with more than a tone of self-depracation and even mockery at his own pompousness. For those unfamiliar with Mahler's works, it remains one of the most touching pieces of music ever scored, and the symphony is worth a place in anyone's collection merely on the basis of this.
The first three movements really only serve to build up to this climax. Indeed, the third movement is used to introduce one of the main themes of the final movement. The form and melody of the music is fairly typical Mahler. For first-time listeners to his music, probably the 1st or 4th Symphonies remain the most accessible and the 6th the least so. The 9th sits somewhere in between. This is characterised by the opening movement, which starts with a sublime melody, redolent of and every bit as powerful as the well-known adagietto of the 5th. The listener settles down, prepared to be slowly pulled through the movement, but Mahler suddenly agitates the whole mood in the middle section of the movement, until pulling us back in again at its close. The second movement follows, and Mahler does the same thing again to us. This movement starts bright and optimistic, again with a melody that will enchant any listener, only to be disturbed during its course. The third movement is unstinting and uncompromising - this is Mahler at his most direct.
The performance on this production is amongst the best you will hear of this symphony. The conductor was no stranger to Mahler's music - at a time when the composer was not as popular as he is now - and Barbirolli is clearly trying to make a point with the way in which he interprets this and other Mahler symphonies. If there can be any complaint at all with this interpretation, it would be that some sections of the final movement are played fractionally faster than on other recordings, which is a shame as it lifts the funerial atmosphere that the composer intended. However, the last few bars, where Mahler, his music and his being, ebb away into eternity, are played so exqisitely by the orchestra, that the above criticism would be churlish in the extreme.
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Comments

Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 26 Sep 2009 15:49:30 BDT
mark0000 says:
....errrm (re the last para. of this review) 'Barbirolli'??? This is Lorin Maazel, not Sir John B.
Methinks this review does NOT apply to this product?

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jul 2010 11:47:00 BDT
Geoff says:
No, this is Barbirolli with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Posted on 6 Aug 2010 11:17:39 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Jul 2012 19:28:21 BDT
Anagnostic says:
Terrific spot on review. This Barbirolli M9 is included on Mahler: The Complete Works - 150th Anniversary Box. Note: I have deleted a bizarre and cringe worthy experiment with economic determinism. Unfortunately this makes one of Mr Streets comments appear irrelevant. This is not the fault of Mr Street it is entirely due to my deletion. My Apologies.

Posted on 12 Jun 2011 16:00:18 BDT
This review is also attached to Rattle's Mahler 9! Amazon all too frequently attaches reviews to the wrong recording, so unless the performer is specifically mentioned in the review you've no means of knowing whether it really applies to the version you're considering. It happens with books, too. A shambles, isn't it?

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jul 2012 17:48:11 BDT
Peter Street says:
If you heard Barbirolli do this in Manchester and Edinburgh with the Halle in the early 1950s the Berlin performance, I assure you, is a disappointment. I don't think Keynes had much to do with it,(the Wirtschaftswunder which swept up the Wunderkind Karajan by the early 60s wasn't very Keynesian) but the early fifties were very Mahlerian times. I hope someone managed to record the Edinburgh performance, which he coupled with Mozart's Linz Symphony, and it emerges. The BBC didn't run the Manchester one - they relayed Kletzki from London instead. I'd heard all the Mahler Symphonies, except the 7th and 8th, live on the BBC in the few years between 1951 and 1955.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jul 2012 19:02:20 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Jul 2012 22:24:37 BDT
Anagnostic says:
I am only familiar with the 1964 Barbirrolli M9 and it ranks among my favourites so I will be keeping a hopefull eye out for the "The Manchester One".
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