WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Zander
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80527
Painstaking work in both these performances is undermined by lack of space in the one and an excess of it in the other. Zander seems to be bidding for superhuman status in an interpretation that charts the first movement’s painful convalescences and the dead zones between the Adagio’s saturated hymns like no other, but takes so much time that his superbly engineered Barbican performance sometimes buckles in the colder light of recording. You may prefer this deliberate view of Mahler’s infinite horizons to the more subtle flexibility of Abbado, but be warned that there are two stumbling blocks: an insistence on fast string vibrato that highlights too many individual players at the expense of a real core to the sound, and pronounced ritardandi, unmarked in the score, that make the first movement limp more than it should.
In other respects, Zander’s balancing act is very much equalled by Dohnányi. Both highlight just about every textural detail, with the solo-string evocations of Brother Death outstanding in the scherzo, and both make much of first violins to the left, seconds to the right. The Cleveland’s superbly articulated climaxes can sound cramped by the up-front recording, though the extreme reprises of more vicious material in the middle movements are rightly hair-raising (and Dohnányi proves that the ‘Rondo-Burleske’ needn’t plod, as Zander’s does, to achieve maximum clarity). Personally I’d rather have Hartmann’s strange melée of Bartók and Stravinsky in both native and exotic mode, superbly played, than Zander’s mostly eloquent, occasionally unctuous 76-minute talk as the enticing extra; but some listeners may find the lecture enlightening. David Nice