Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6191
A Ninth has to be the crowning glory of any Mahler cycle, and Chailly’s farewell to the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, with which he has moulded an impressive series so far, is consistent with the best he has given us. Like his Mahler Three and Seven, it goes further than any other recorded interpretation in its revelatory sonorities. This is partly thanks to the extraordinary marriage between the resonant spaces of the Concertgebouw’s Great Hall and an artful recording especially good at coaxing dragonish lower woodwind out of their lairs. A supernatural luminosity lights up such details as the first movement’s final note, shared by piccolo and cello harmonics, or the beginning of a trumpet dance tune leading nowhere. Mahler’s looking-glass world of shrill, trilling high frequencies, cavernous brass and subterranean bass rumblings has never sounded more remarkable. Yet I’m not sure where this leaves us in terms of the Symphony’s desperate emotional significance. With Chailly tending more to the broad horizons of later Bruno Walter or Horenstein than the precipitous urgency of an Abbado, the battlefield is a cosmic one, but not all of humanity is engaged in it. Mahler’s country dances and furious academic mazes are surely too heavy too often, staying disappointingly impersonal even when hopeful tenderness is supposed to creep back. And the finale is magisterially moulded, with stunning emphasis from the Concertgebouw strings, but never quite vocal enough. For a truer unfurling of comedy and tragedy on a similar scale, Bernstein with the same orchestra remains more earth-shatteringly human. Still, Chailly should be listened to attentively by anyone interested in state-of-the-art orchestral and recorded sound. David Nice

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