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Reviews

EMI Classics 5-01228-2
12 Oct 2011

Simon Rattle’s Mahler 9

Recorded between 24 and 27 October 2008 at the Philhamonie in Berlin, this release offers the dynamism of a concert performance with the sound quality associated with EMI’s fine recordings.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 9.

Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle, conductor.

EMI Classics 5-01228-2 [2CDs]

$15.99  Click to buy

Some interpretations of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony benefit from live recordings, and Rattle’s is one of them, with tempos and textures that convey the score as vividly as Mahler composed it. The details of the score are important, as evident in the fair copy of the work, which was not yet performed when Mahler died. Those who have had the privilege of examining that manuscript, though, are aware of the revisions that it contains as the composer annotated it thoroughly. In contrast to the earlier draft score, which contains some personal exclamations, about youth, love and farewell, the fair copy lacks such indications. Instead, it contains details of scoring, articulation, expression, and phrasing that convey instead the vitality of the music, which emerges with appropriate style in this recent recording of the work.

As much as many have special feelings about the “Finale” of the Ninth, the first movement stands out a seminal work that bridges the Romantic world and twentieth-century music. In this recording Rattle offers a thoughtful reading of the first movement, which lasts almost twenty-nine minutes. It is a spaciously planned performance that unfolds convincingly, with the musical logic behind the score evident in its execution, with the brief motifs found at the beginning of the movement clearly defined so that the musical narrative proceeds logical from the opening as the larger themes of the exposition take shape. The details of accompanying figures, including fanfares, glissandi, and other elements support the thematic content of the piece likewise have their place, as the contrast between smaller musical ideas and the larger structure becomes a dynamic feature of Rattle’s interpretation. More importantly, the sense of line, of musical continuity, is always apparent in this performance.

A similar masterful interpretation guides the performance of the two inner movements, with the second benefitting from the fine playing of the Berlin Philharmonic as it renders the details of the score with nuance and delicacy. The various orchestral colors remain as distinct in the performance as they occur in Mahler’s score. Tempos are likewise fluid, as Rattle brings the score to life as convincingly here was in the first movement. The sometimes angular lines in the low brass are characterized well, without the result ever seeming grotesque or otherwise departing from the fine sense of style that emerges from this performance.

The brass section brings this kind of finesse to the third movement, which has a sense of urgency that guides the ideas as they unfold. Here the woodwinds demonstrate their fine timbre and sense of ensemble in the textures Mahler scored carefully in this music. As clear as the details appear in this performance, they serve the line, which supports Rattle’s keen sense of the musical narrative in a virtuosic performance of the “Rondo-Burleske.”

Yet it is the “Finale” that many listeners recall strongly, and here Rattle offers a reading that supports the score without lapsing into heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality. In following the details of Mahler’s score, Rattle serves the sense of music well, as it rich textures and full sonorities of the work are rendered vividly. The tone is entirely appropriate to the tempos, as it is possible to hear the articulation of chords and pitches resonate well throughout the movement. This interpretation is consistent with the elegiac sense that emerges in Rattle’s performances of “Der Abschied” in Das Lied von der Erde, a sense that is all the more admirable for the lack of verbal text in the Ninth to serve as a guide. The contrasts of texture and dynamics support the music line, which is clearly presented here as in the other three movements of this exemplary performance of Mahler’s Symphony no. 9. The conclusion complements the first movement, with the dynamic tension sustained through the final pitches, as they dissolve into silence at the end of this remarkable recording.

This is Rattle’s second recording of Mahler’s Ninth, with the other released separately and later reissued as part of the set of the composer’s symphonies by the conductor. As strong as the earlier recording may be, the second merits attention for subtle differences that it contains. The exceptional playing of the Berlin Philharmonic allows Rattle to create an outstanding recording of this masterpiece.

James L. Zychowicz

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