LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra/ Myung-Whun Chung
CATALOGUE NO: 481 1109
Here is Mahler from South Korea and it often equals the best of Amsterdam, Berlin and Vienna interpretations. And why not? If, like me, you’ve not consistently followed Myung-Whun Chung’s work with the Seoul Philharmonic over the past decade, then your expectations might be confounded. There’s individuality and beauty of sound here from the start, allowing the valedictory pathos of Mahler’s uncrushable procession in the vast opening movement space to breathe; Chung favours a slower than average basic tempo, but it’s full of life between the lines, and there’s no faking the tenderness embedded in the phrases, beautifully done by the Seoul strings.
With woodwind slightly warmer and less sarcastic than usual in kicking off the scherzo, Chung negotiates the movement’s three speeds – country dance, giddying waltz and frail idyll – as well as any conductor I know. The Rondo-Burleske is spine-tinglingly articulate at a fast speed, a dazzling-scary coda heightened by the novel pulling-back for the two repeated brass chords trying to restore order. Within it is perhaps Chung’s only miscalculation in bypassing a score instruction; he doesn’t need to sentimentalise the trumpet tune which heralds the endgame of the finale (the injunction to slow down only comes later). The last ritual, though, never disappoints, its biggest climax hitting hard and spacious before the descent into shadowlands, as sensitive as any I’ve heard. It’s true that the DG sound rather spotlights the strings, but the recording has plenty of impact and the inner lines are always clear and meaningful. David Nice