The most apt word to sum up Haitink's idea of Mahler is, noble. A profound meditation upon life and the life of a great composer is achieved in a performance that is by no means hasty; indeed, the first movement lasts 27:02 and feels truly epic. Let's just stop and remind ourselves of something we already know: Mahler's 9th, his symphonies in general, are huge. One disc or two, the 9th is a big listen.
I don't know much of the substantial Berlin Philharmonic cycle BH recorded back in the '90s but the general impression I got from studying the critical appraisal was one of hefty dourness. Today, Haitink's engagement with the music of Mahler is not dour but it is weighty and characterful, without neurotics or shock tactics. Masterful control that does not preclude sympathy.
I've recently come into the old RCO/Mahler cycle, reissued in the Decca Haitink Symphonies Edition. I can remember a fellow reviewer, vis-à-vis the 9th, talking about a 'hole' in the sound. There is something of the kind, maybe also some extraneous noise, which is one good reason for putting this new BRSO concert in pole position, at least as far as the Haitink Mahler discography goes. Whilst listening to the old RCO version I couldn't help comparing it, unfavourably, with the Karajan concert of 1982 - indeed, the Haitink woke me up to just how great that concert recording is - but this digital stereo Munich recording deserves respect on its own terms. Superbly detailed, beautiful without being boutique, and as I said when I reviewed the Bruckner 5 on BR Klassik, the outer movements are where the spiritual drama is found, the worldly battle dramatized in the centre. Bruckner: Symphony 5
An exemplary recording and another testament to a great conductor. There's nothing of the circus in Haitink's Mahler and we're all the better for that.
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