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Soft-grained Mahler in the late Abbado manner
on 17 May 2008
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.