Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Philharmonia/Esa-Pekka Salonen
CATALOGUE NO: SGCD188

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Take this first of all as a convalescent’s hymn of thanksgiving after the confinement of Norrington’s snatch-and-grab Mahler Nine (which some have admired more than I). Salonen surely does nearly everything that most of us require from a cutting-edge interpreter with plenty to say. His Boulezian ear for balance keeps all the textures phantasmagorically clear in the first and third movements, with a little more warmth than he used to have and an Abbado-ian way of pushing forward without seeming to rush.

The Philharmonia brass, open as well as stopped or muted do heroic work throughout, and Salonen’s alertness to the right sonority gives us some moments of supernatural beauty – the misty horn ensemble in the first-movement coda, for instance, or the ethereal trumpeter who dusts off the hurly-burly at the heart of the Rondo-Burleske.

To compare the Philharmonia with the very best, I might add that the strings can be a little soft-grained in climaxes, and at the other end of the scale not quite as inward or soulful as, say, Abbado’s Berlin Philharmonic; even so, the final dying embers are a dream, surely made possible by live circumstances.

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After the first-movement punches, the scherzo comes across as less than clumsy and lurid (though the last of the delirious whirls does take off). There are compensating insights, though, and no one makes the Festival Hall acoustics sound finer than engineer Jonathan Stokes. David Nice