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Mahler: Symphony No.9 [DVD]  [NTSC]
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Claudio Abbado and his hand-picked players of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra take their acclaimed Mahler cycle to a new level with this performance of the most complex and compelling of the symphonies, the intense, searching Ninth. Abbado brings all his renowned clarity of vision and the experience of a lifetime to this contradictory music half valedictory, half life-affirming and his orchestra of soloists, including some of the leading instrumentalists of our time, revels in the transparent textures and virtuosity of Mahlers last completed symphony.
The listener is rendered speechless at the thrilling depth and perfection of the symbiosis achieved here between artistic wisdom and undimmed joy in making music at the highest level. --Christian Wildhagen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 24, 1010
This is a mind blowing experience-a Mahler Ninth as great as any I've heard, and a superlative continuation of what is proving to be the most profoundly satisfying Mahler cycle of our times. --IRR,Apr'11
Abbado's unparalleled 'orchestra of soloists'in Mahler's valedictory Ninth. EDITORS CHOICE --Gramophone,June'11
It felt like the greatest concert in my experience and surely its intensity will be communicated to anyone who buys this indispensible DVD. Performance ***** Recording ***** --BBC Music Magazine,June'11
BBC Music Magazine: DVD (Performance) Award Winner --- It's surely that extraordinary relationship which makes this Maher Ninth uniquely compelling: the searing commitment to Abbado is written on each face; their edge-of-the-seat concentration, and eye contact with the conductor, charged with meaning. --BBC Music Magazine May '12
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However, about the atmosphere much is to be written. I was fortunate to sit in the concert hall during all the concerts, which were used for this recording. It is very easy : the apparently simplicity with which Abbado satisfies the audience for Mahler, allows an exceptional atmosphere in the concert hall : deep feelings, extremely good relationship between the orchestra groups, an elegant Mahler sound that nobody other than Abbado manages to create. The emotions that Abbado himself undergoes (just look at his face and gestures), are reflected in music. All this is shown phenomenally on this blu ray: it might sound strange, but almost the perfection of sound and images are obtained on this blu ray. For those who are less lucky, not being able to attend the concert, this blu ray disc will give a near live concert.
A must for every music lover, but certainly for the Abbado fans.
The orchestra is widely respected for its technical and musical qualities and has similarities in concept to the Lucerne Festival Orchestra which also recorded the work a little while later. There are, however, significant differences between these two performances and recordings that become apparent right from the start and which are generally maintained throughout.
This slightly earlier performance is markedly more dramatic and forthright with less emphasis on particular soloists and with an inevitably stronger full orchestral presence. The pulse is more strongly forwardly pressing. This can be easily checked at any point but is very noticeable from the start of the 3rd movement, the rondo burlesque, where the burlesque element is more forceful. All of this is delivered with total assurance by the orchestra and absolutely no allowances have to be made for the players' relative youth or lack of long-term experience. It is arguable, of course, that these aspects of the players may have influenced Abbado's approach to the interpretation. Whatever the reason, there is a real choice to be made between the two interpretations.
The recording is very fine indeed and the Blu-ray version is a clear improvement. The camera work is fully involving for the viewer and provides crisp imaging with good colour rendition. The sound is very full and is presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo. It offers a markedly more forward balance than that provided for the Lucerne version. This suits the different interpretation and is a very exciting alternative.
The differences between the performances are very significant in my view. There are two contradictory views on what this music is actually about and it seems to me that Abbado's performance here lays less stress on the death-obsessed views that are currently favoured (as described in the booklet interestingly). This is crucial to one's views of the symphony and to how one might react to these two differing performances.
The following is a fair resume of the opposing camps as regards the content or intentions behind this music:
There are two main competing views as to what this music is about. Mahler, at the time, had just completed two very successful seasons as conductor of The Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic and in his last letters said that he was looking forward to going on tour with the NYPO. In addition he had made considerable progress with his 10th Symphony. None of this suggests a man approaching imminent death and beset by such fears and possible anger as some would have it. On the contrary, it rather suggests a man at the top of his game and looking forward to his future life and continuing success. Indeed, this rather optimistic point of view is the one generally held and put forward by the eminent Mahler authority, Henri-Louis La Grange.
When we consider Mahler's own comments and those of his closest colleagues of the Second Viennese School we find that Mahler himself denied that there was any program to his symphonies and asked that they should be judged simply as pure music.
In addition, Berg described the 9th as `It expresses an extraordinary love of the earth, for Nature'.
Also Schoenberg had this to say ` [The Ninth] contains what may be termed objective, almost dispassionate statements of a beauty which will be perceived only by those who can dispense with visceral warmth and who feel comfortable in a climate of intellectual coldness'
Not a word is mentioned by these three men as regards a focus on death. So where does this leave us when confronted by conductors who insist that this is the work of a man facing imminent death with many strong and negative feelings?
When considering the music itself it is clear that the first movement has many retrospective elements. The second movement, a rustic ländler, becomes distorted and frantic as it progresses. The 3rd movement includes the term `burlesque' in the title which musically simply means a parody. None of these ideas are unique to this one work by Mahler and there are countless other examples in his work of these compositional features. The last movement certainly seems to fragment during its course and finishes very quietly indeed but what else could Mahler to do in order to create compositional balance? He could hardly have ended with yet another quick movement.
To return to Abbado, all one can say is that within his own apparently contrasting concepts of the work he and his two orchestras deliver all that one could imagine possible. I personally have a preference for this earlier performance with the Mahler Youth orchestra as I tend to favour the view that this is not death-obsessed music of a dying man but rather an expression of hope etc. as Berg, Schoenberg, Henri-Louis La Grange suggest and very much the music of a man looking forward to more life. We must remember that Mahler himself denied that there was any program to his symphonies and asked that they should be judged simply as pure music
In summary and in my opinion this is a clear contender for serious consideration for all the reasons as above and should give much pleasure and satisfaction to all purchasers who share either of Abbado's visions of the work. My personal preference, owning both, is for this earlier, less inward and more forwardly dramatic concept. Both performances end in a whisper with the audience held in utter silence with dimmed lighting for a prolonged period of time.
The final bars takes one to a place where there is no rhythm,no beaten time.
It takes a special conductor to wring (without histrionics) all the emotion from this remarkable score.Many so-called great conductors have failed.
However,we have a maestro here enjoying his own resurrection (following serious illness) at the helm of his own hand picked orchestra.What has been recorded here for posterity is arguably the finest Mahler 9 ever recorded.
The silence at the end of the last note (silence which seems to be maintained for an age) is awe-inspiring and I am green with envy at one of the other contributors who has seen all these concerts live!
Claudio Abbado's rebirth at the helm of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is THE miracle of classical music today. Forget the young conductors who attain instant genius (such as Dudamel for example).Here is a legend who deserves the title.Unassuming,unfussy,methodical,forensic,glorious Abbado.
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