Recorded "live" at the Berlin Philharmonie Hall, September 1999 this is the last of three new Mahler releases on DG. All the recordings include the previous two, the 3rd and the 7th made "live" by Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic. Abbado new performance on the ninth is a really great one, different and special. Through the darkness lines he bring a real feeling of "dark lane" but he also find the "latent beauty" lines. In this way he seems closer to Horenstein LSO recording on BBC Legends (coupled with Mahler Kindertotenlieder) and to Zander Philharmonia recording on Telarc. Zander Adagio (the fourth movement) is about two minutes slower then Abbado, at 27'44" he is one of the length on record. Horenstein is also close to zander in his LSO recording for BBC Legends and even slower then Zander in his version for Music & Arts. Abbado is in the same class and he delivers the Adagio with great clarity. There is depth and sorrow and the feeling of being into the "edge". The Andante Comodo is impressively place by Aabbado; show understanding from highest order. Through the inner movements Abbado manage to build a strong basis to the Adagio. The Scherzo is gauged superbly and the amazing respond that the Berlin forces can offer brings a true feeling of exploring truth. The third movement Rondo Burleske is quite quick but since abbado has already achieved to put a strong momentum through the first two movements he doesn't lose even a slight of attention. Here also the strings shin beautifully. The sound is close and well balanced so the instrumental details sound clearly. At times there are audience noises at the background (espeasily at the quietly passages) but they really don't interrupt. The reaction of audience themselves at the end of the performance edited in. A nearly full minute of silence in the hall, before they can put together their hands for the applause. The packaging is also includes a fine essay on the work by Habakuk Traber. This is a stunning performance; to be ranked alongside Zander with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Horenstein with the LSO, Haitink with the Concertaebouw Orchestra, Barbirolli with the Berlin Philharmonic now re-issue by Emi on "Great Recording Of The Century" series, and Leonard Bernstein also with the Berlin Philharmonic. This new recording belong to every mahlerian shelf. It should also rated has one of the essential recordings of Mahler 2002 releases.
This is probably a minority view as BBC Radio 3 recommended this disc as its "Library Version" in early 2008. For me there is, with the exception of the excellent Scherzo (second movement) a significant lack of "edge" to this performance - the cutting wail of the first violins early in the Andante Commodo (first movement) being well-mannered and integrated into the general sound is a good example of this. The Berlin Philharmonic play with a breath taking sensitiviy and gentleness and at the end of the final movement (Adagio, marked "morendo" or "dying away") they produce tender little whisps of sound for Abaddo, ending the symphony in a stunned rapturous silence. This was Abbado's particular way with this symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic recording (also live but only available as part of the complete DGG set) does exactly the same thing - as indeed he did at a Proms performance I attended some time in the 1990's. In fact this is an expressive mannerism that speaks of "farewell" and "death" in the interpretation (though it is not as marked as is von Karajan's with the same orchestra in the analogue recording). The "Leb' wol" (sic) marking in the autograph score ("farewell") and the marking "morendo" make this a valid interpretive approach, but the less interventionist approach of Kubelik (live Audite 1975, available from Amazon and see "all my reviews", and best of all from the complete DGG set) is ultimately more satisfying. Best of all (by a whisker) in the classic Haitink 1969 recording (again, see "all my reviews") which Amazon seem not to stock but is still available from Marketplace vendors as a Twofer coupling The Song of the Earth.
The recording is probably the problem in this disc. The Philharmonie is not an easy venue to record in and there is a distinct lack of "top" in this case, coupled with a lot of close microphone placings. The other discs mentioned above sound much more natural, as does the Barbirolli 1965 recording (also BPO) which trades passion for some scrappy and inaccurate playing but with worth a listen.
Absolutely stunning! What adjectives can I use to describe Mahler's music and Abbado's interpretation? Serene in places, sweeping, majestic, elegiac, meditative, haunting, and above all beautiful. Above all at the end of my first listening to this version of the Adagio I too sat for almost a full minute in silence savouring what I had just heard. Just sublime.