Mahler Symphony No. 9
After a disappointingly earthbound performance of this Symphony in London’s Barbican in January 2011, Gustavo Dudamel and his Los Angeles forces dig deeper just over a year later in this live recording from their home city’s Walt Disney Hall. It wins a special place among many fine Mahler Symphony No. 9 recordings with its unflinching textural clarity and general spaciousness. It has none of the odd tempo relations that unbalanced Dudamel’s Mahler Symphony No. 5, only pulling back heavily in the slowest of the second movement’s three country dances, and speeding up suddenly in the finale, when Mahler wants the heating-up to be ‘imperceptible’. Yet, with the possible exception of the Rondo-Burleske’s giddying final charges, it also has none of the raw excitement of the conductor’s Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 with his Venezuelan orchestra.
That may have something to do with the unflappable professional demeanour of the LA Phil; these top American players rarely get in a lather. There are certainly superb solo contributions from the principal viola in the more dance-of-death like moments in the scherzo, as well as the first horn and twilight woodwind in the final hymn. The chief interpretative drawback is shared by the recorded sound, impeccably balanced but all up front; both lack a true hinterland, and miss the proper vocalising of anguished strings in the first movement battles or of their transfigured, higher selves later on. These we get in the god-of-all Mahler Symphony No. 9s, Claudio Abbado’s with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra on DVD. Still, this has its own integrity, and the audience meets the infinite calms at the ends of the outer movements with total silence.