Mahler, Schubert

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler,Schubert
LABELS: DG Originals
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Carlo Maria Giulini
CATALOGUE NO: 463 609-2 ADD Reissue (1977, 1978)
Seven minutes’ difference distinguishes these two extreme performances of Mahler’s greatest first movement, with predictable results. Neumann glides sanely and warmly at first, but his battered hero climbs all too easily and noisily out of the several terrifying graves Mahler digs for him; while Giulini’s lumbering Behemoth with glossy wings (at 31:45) is already beyond human conflict. Schoenberg’s statement that the symphony consists of ‘objective, almost passionless statements’ of a spiritually cool beauty could only be truthfully applied to the final Adagio, where Giulini magisterially sweeps reservations aside. Earlier, though, he refuses to catch a whiff of rank humanity either in the scherzo’s second, whirling waltz or in the Rondo-Burleske’s grinding pedantry. The recording, most gruesome specimen of DG’s mid-Seventies artifice, lets him down badly – the lofty Schubert Eight sounds much more natural – while Neumann’s unsophisticated engineers at least let us hear how focused and ferocious the Leipzig orchestra once was, even if the interpretation thickens as the symphony progresses. David Nice