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LSO Live 668
27 Feb 2012

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Based on performances given on 2 and 3 March 2011 (at the Barbican, London), Valery Gergiev’s recording of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony is an engaging and persuasive reading of the score.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9

London Symphony Orchestra. Valery Gergiev, conductor.

LSO Live 668 [SACD]

$16.99  Click to buy

The nature of the work itself requires the sophisticated engineering found with this release, which allows the subtleties to be heard clearly throughout, from the thing, soft textures at the opening of the first movement to the raucous tutti passages in the Rondo-Burleske. Along with the finesse implicit in the dynamic levels, the ambiance conveys the concerts which are the basis of this release, with the tension and dynamism of the performances. This is an interpretation which contributes to the existing discography of the Ninth Symphony because of the details that Gergiev brings to his reading of this important work from the early twentieth century.

As far as timings are concerned, the proportions match convention, with the first movement, 27:02; the second, 15:10; the third, 12:35; and the Finale, 24:24. The entire work is available on a single disc, packaged nicely with concise liner notes by Stephen Johnson. As useful as the essay is, the performance begs the question of Gergiev’s perspectives on this score. His interpretation of the first movement makes the structure palpable, without sacrificing expression. In this recording the opening measures are nicely detached, an approach that allows the motive to stand out when it recurs. At the same time, the clarity of the string textures is reproduced clearly in this recording, such that the middle voices emerge with ease. The brass are similarly articulate in this movement. The horns are prominent where required, and fit well into the timbres Mahler scored so precisely.

Gergiev’s tempos are spacious, with his pacing supporting both the thematic content and structure. The details are present without slavish adherence to the letter of the score. Gergiev offers an aggressive interpretation of this consummate work of Mahler’s symphonic oeuvre. In balancing the rich romantic sounds of the first movement with the chamber-music-like sonorities it also contains, Gergiev creates a dynamic in which the timbre is as expressive an element of the thematic material. The Coda of the first movement is eloquent in the way the music dissolves into the sonorities with which the structure concludes.

Tempo is critical for the second movement, where Gergiev’s master of the piece is apparent from the start. If Mahler is the master of transition, as one commentator once stated, Gergiev has mastered this aspect of the second movement in allowing the various sections of the piece flow together naturally. Nothing is out of place here, but presented as logically as it is performed with expression. In this performance the middle section is memorably impetuous, such that it sets up the reprise of the opening material effectively.

With the Rondo-Burleske, Gergiev offers an energetic reading of the score. The irony that Mahler composed in this piece is apparent in the style he used in this performance. Beyond the mastery of transitions, Gergiev offers a sense of continuity that allows the ideas to flow convincingly between the individual phrases to create well-articulated passages that bring to musical narrative to an exciting, if breathless conclusion.

Yet in bringing the Ninth to its conclusion, the final movement has the breadth it deserves. While never allowing the movement to languish, Gergiev’s interpretation is particularly moving. As with the first movement, the Finale dissolves into the individual sounds that Mahler used in the concluding section. The interpretation is profound, not maudlin, with the gravity of the Finale balancing the sonata form of the first movement in a recording that elicits repeated hearings. This is a fine performance, which enhances the contributions Gergiev has already made to the Mahler discography with his other releases on LSO Live.

Jim Zychowicz

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