Mariss Jansons conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 9

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LABELS: BR Klassik
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons


Mahler did not live to conduct the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, and might have retouched many details if he had – not least, tightening up the many sequential repetitions of its Ländler second movement. But the real problem here is that this follows arguably the greatest single movement he ever composed: the vast opening Andante comprising wave after wave of hyper-expressive counterpoint – virtually a symphony-in-one movement in itself. And although he screwed up the tension again in the satirical exasperation of the ‘Rondo Burlesque’ third movement, the exalted quality of the opening is not regained until the hymn-like Adagio finale, with its lingering, fade-out coda that is hard not to hear as Mahler’s farewell to life.

Although the score includes no metronome marks – Mahler disparaged them – conductors’ choices of the best tempos to hold this disparate work together seem to have been surprisingly consistent. Most recordings come in at somewhere between 77 and 82 minutes – though in his last recording with the Philharmonia, Lorin Maazel managed to take 15 minutes longer! Mariss Jansons finely calibrates the ebb and flow of the opening movement and never allows the finale to falter; and while one has heard more savage accounts of the ‘Rondo Burlesque’, Jansons’s account of the Ländler is more nuanced – and more interesting – than most. But what is special is the care he, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the engineers have taken with the quieter music: those haunting, shadowy transitions in the Andante; those remote, blanched contrapuntal episodes in the finale. And the final fade-out must surely be among the most fine-spun on record.


Bayan Northcott