Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Hallé CD
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Hallé/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: HLD 7541

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How spoiled we are by great strings sounds in Mahler on CD: Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, even Leipzig orchestras all glow in that special way demanded by his symphonic writing. The Hallé players, though always moulded with special concern for detail by their music director Mark Elder, are not in the same league here. The portamentos, the articulation: it’s all there, but when compounded by Elder’s sometimes choppy sense of movement, they can’t make the music soar when it needs to. Just one example, the way Elder bumps the last returning processional of the opening movement’s tender nocturne for a take-off which fails. There are long, noble stretches but the conflict zones of the first movement lack that last degree of urgency, the ‘tempo two’ strain of the scherzo never threatens to fly off the rails as it should. The deliberate pedantry of the Rondo-Burleske needs a little more lustre, too.

Then the magic happens: where some interpretations fall at the last hurdle, the great but sometimes hard-to-feel Adagio finale, this one hits peak form. A live performance always makes a difference to the long-term vision, the feeling behind the notes – a sense of a human gaze which lasts through to the dying fall. Elsewhere, though, admiration rests with some superlative solos – the first horn guiding an early passage through the twilight zone, for instance – and the clarity of textures.

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David Nice