The hallmark of this recording is its transparency: you hear so much both from the main and secondary lines in the orchestra, and not just because of the excellent Tudor engineering. Conductor Jonathan Nott is a master at pointing up meaningful detail, and his Bamberger players respond with spirit and accuracy and deliver a performance of passion and authority. That said, those looking for power and sweep may find this effort a bit lacking. The climax of the first movement, for example, which occurs from 19:34 to 19:50, comes across cleanly but lacks the impact that Solti and many others achieve here. When the main theme returns at 21:25 it's a tad rushed and somewhat coldly rendered. Still, the overall performance of this movement is quite convincing.
The rest of the symphony follows the same course. The inner movements are well played and the tempos in all four panels are fairly middle-of-the-road. The critical Adagio has the requisite solemnity and sadness; yet it comes across with an almost chamber music gentleness and intimacy. That's not necessarily a drawback in this dark and personal outpouring by Mahler, but some listeners might want more of an epic sense of tragedy here. I do. But again, you can't dismiss this performance as a lightweight treatment of this monumental movement. It's compelling in its precision and commitment, in its sense of finality and despair. Still, it's slightly impersonal, slightly…well, calculated. In the end, one must assess this Mahler Ninth as a fine performance, fully competitive with many of the best versions. Personally, I have found the Giulini/Chicago on Deutsche Grammophon, from the 1970s, and Walter on Columbia, from around 1960, to be completely absorbing. Giulini was very slow in his tempos and Walter quite fast, though not nearly as fast his 1938 Vienna Philharmonic recording, which clocked in at 70 minutes. This Nott reading, by comparison, has a total time of 83:29, pretty much a standard for this symphony today.
Anyway, this performance of the Mahler Ninth can be highly recommended, not least because of its excellent sound reproduction.
Copyright © 2010, Robert Cummings