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Blu-ray Review

Gustav Mahler

  • Symphony #9 in D Major
  • Symphony #10 in F Sharp minor: I. Adagio
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Recorded live at Kloster Eberbach, Eltville am Rhein, Germany - June 27 & 28, 2009 (#9); June, 2008 (#10)
Bonus Track - Paavo Järvi's Mahler
Unitel Classica/C Major Blu-ray 729804 117:00+18:00 PCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
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Also available on DVD 729308:
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This is the final installment in Paavo Järvi's Mahler symphony cycle with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. Earlier this year I reviewed Symphonies #1-4 here (Unitel Classica Blu-ray 718104), as well as #5-8 (Unitel Classica Blu-ray 729404). In those reviews I referenced many other performances of the Mahler symphonies, mostly on video, and consistently found Järvi's Mahler excellent by comparison, in no small part because the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra never lets him down, always playing at world class level. Here, things go well again, even though once more the video portion is not first rate. I noted in the earlier reviews that, with the exception of Symphony #1, the video and sound quality have been more comparable to that of DVD caliber than Blu-ray. Here, however, the sound reproduction seems slightly better, although the video quality is much the same as most of the other performances: colors are a bit washed out and picture quality could be sharper. Still, the production is more than acceptable, especially when considering the excellence of the performances.

Although Järvi has generally avoided extremes in his tempo selections, he has occasionally played slow music a little on the slow side and fast music slightly more briskly than usual. In the first movement here, that tendency is more noticeable and while not ever extreme it nearly pushes the music to its limits in creating an effective sense of contrast. In the end, Järvi delivers a powerfully effective first movement, with passion flaring and tension seething throughout. The slow sections always sound vital and convincing, in great part because Järvi points up so much meaningful detail that is often buried in other performances. I do wish the kettle drums were a little more potent at the climax, but this may be my only complaint, as everything else goes so well, especially the gripping and beautiful reprise of the main theme.

The middle movements are just as successful, with their joys, energy, ecstasies and grotesqueries coming through in proper proportions. The pathetic Adagio is very intense here, with the strings really digging in at climactic moments, and the orchestra playing with such nuance and subtlety in the fading music at the end. In 2014 I reviewed a riveting Mahler Ninth, Chailly's on Accentus Music (Accentus Blu-ray 10299), and that effort would be a very viable alternative to Järvi's: Chailly is quite brisk throughout, clocking in about seven minutes faster than Järvi, whose timing of about 84:30 falls into the average range. As I noted in previous reviews, there are many worthwhile Mahler Ninths, including those of Walter, Bernstein, Pesek, Nott (Tudor 7162), and Dudamel (Deutsche Grammophon 4790924). This one by Järvi is a contender with the finest and certainly an excellent capstone to his Mahler cycle.

Well, it's not quite the capstone as we have the incomplete Mahler Tenth here as well. The music in this lengthy Adagio is beautifully played, brimming with passion and the same end-of-life character as the Ninth. Järvi etches out a broadly paced but fully convincing interpretation, his orchestra once again playing with utter conviction and accuracy. The picture and sound properties are similar to that of the Ninth. The bonus feature on this disc offers insightful commentary by Järvi about these profound and enigmatic works. For those with a strong interest in Mahler's music, this final volume of the project, and for that matter the entire cycle of the symphonies are strongly recommended.

Copyright © 2015, Robert Cummings