Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: LSO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0668 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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This latest instalment of Valery Gergiev’s Mahler cycle with the LSO, edited from live Barbican recordings on 2 and 3 March 2011, begins well. Taking from the advances and refinements of his Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler attained a new level of complexity in facture and feeling in the 27-minute opening Andante comodo, which almost amounts to a symphony-in-one-movement in itself. And Gergiev paces and balances its unfolding finely, from halting start via macabre climax to nostalgic fade-out.

The ensuing Ländler movement duly comes as a shock as Mahler doubtless intended, but with not enough countering crispness in this reading to mitigate its relentless length. The sardonic contrapuntal capers of the Rondo Burleske third movement are also played for force here, occasionally threatening to turn into a scramble, while the exaggerated vibrato of the opening string paragraph of the Adagio finale is surely over the top. Thereafter, the reading comes back into focus, with the climax passionately delivered and an unfailing concentration in those infinitely drawn-out dying bars.

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Good in parts, then – which some might say is true of the work itself. Admittedly, nothing that producer James Mallinson and his expert recording team can do can quite counter the coarsening effect of the Barbican’s intractable acoustics on massive orchestral tuttis. But the sound of Mahler’s more soloistic textures – as heard in the finale’s affecting, more remote episodes – is often exquisite. And while Gergiev can occasionally be heard groaning, it is hard to detect the presence of an audience even in those dying final pages. Bayan Northcott