Mahler: Symphony No. 9

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: EMI Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
CATALOGUE NO: EMI Classics 5099950122820

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This is a major issue for EMI to present as download first, CD afterwards: ‘conventional’ listeners will have to wait until the spring, though I hope that by then the current distribution of movements on the discs I’ve been sent will be rectified – Mahler conceived the first pair and the last as musically interconnected, so it makes no sense to leave the great Adagio by itself on CD 2. Like Barenboim’s trenchant account with another Berlin orchestra (reviewed in the April 2007 issue), Rattle’s Mahler Nine is irreproachably prepared and enlightening in textures – even if EMI’s favoured current sound, as in its ventures with Pappano in Rome, puts the strings right up front without enough air around them.

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The players are keenly listening to each other, as the chamber music of the third dance-strain in the Scherzo beautifully but unsentimentally illustrates. Pianissimos, too, are as refined as they were with Abbado and the same orchestra eight years ago; but Rattle, though he moves confidently in the first movement between stillness and disquiet, still doesn’t quite have either Abbado’s supple sense of movement here or his graphic way with the frequent, terrible collapses. I can see why Rattle might want to keep the terrors of the Rondo-Burleske under control until the last manic spurts, but the test of the final death-hymn leaves him finding less between the lines than Abbado. It’s an advance, certainly, on his previous recording, yet in 20 years’ time he may find still more in this truly remarkable work.