Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Accentus
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Lucerne Festival Orchestra/ Claudio Abbado (Lucerne, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: ACC20214 (NTSC system; dts HD Master Audio; 16:9 picture format)

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Here is one of the most profound symphonies played by the hand-picked orchestra of the greatest living conductor – one who, like Mahler, has walked through the valley of the shadow of death. For me, who was fortunate to be present at that Lucerne performance by Claudio Abbado, it felt like the greatest concert in my experience, and surely its intensity will be communicated to anyone who buys this indispensable DVD. This captures much of the peerless tone-colour, shape, drive and above all those hushed dynamics of that performance, awarded what feels like an infinite silence at the end (two minutes, in fact). 
 
So much for the generalities. I could write a book on the detail, the fine-tuning of every solo, capped by Bruno Schneider’s metaphysical horn playing  and Reinhold Friedrich’s third-movement trumpet from another planet. Abbado’s pacing is unrivalled: the first movement is always moving forward even in the remote dead zones between the episodes of turmoil, the second graced with incredibly delicate humour from the woodwind, the third ferocious but clear, the finale heading clear-eyed for what here is the undoubted climax of the entire Symphony.
 
Overall, there’s a silvery quality well reflected by the warm but ruthless Lucerne acoustic, a mobility to the playing – wonderful to watch especially in co-concertmaster Sebastian Breuninger – and an almost painful sensitivity in the orchestral soloists’ expressions to match Abbado’s. Alas, you can only use the alternative ‘conductor camera’ in the first movement – the only time it’s been engaged since the Fifth Symphony back in 2004 – but the mixture of close-ups and wide shots in the final rituals is superb as ever from this team. Finest concert DVD ever? I think so. David Nice