Mahler: Symphony, No. 9
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Mahler: Symphony No. 9
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Bernard Haitank is a regular guest on the podium of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. In December 2011, the conductor from the Netherlands led the orchestra in Mahler's Ninth Symphony and was highly praised for his 'old-wise' interpretation. Following Bruckner's 5th Symphony, this is the second release Bernard Haitink has presented with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on the BR Klassik label.
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In the department of sheer physical beauty and orchestral execution this one eclipses Haitink's own analogue version from the 60s by miles. Granted, there are no earthshaking moments - as expected from him - but virtually every note feels refreshingly new and alive thanks to the brilliant conducting from the podium. In short, before Haitink Mahler Ninth has never sounded so 'fascinating'.
In the great Adagio, the way the orchestra effortlessly lays out all the beautiful, autumnal melodies and counterpoints at such a steady tempo so persuasively is nothing short of breathtaking. Have we ever heard the middle portion of the Rondo Burleske in such a sober yet melancholy mood? What about the climaxes? They (I am thinking of the first movt's main collapse about 18 min. into the movement) are undone with all the power and authority (listen to the Bavarian brass!), but are also done so naturally but assuredly that I was left with an eerie feeling in the end. Tears in my eyes? Oh yes, surely!
To sum up, this is one of the most naturally powerful rendition of Gustav Mahler's last completed symphony. Haitink and BRSO really have something new to say about the piece and it's this listener's privilege to witness their accomplishment.
The recoding sound which was taken from a live concert is just fine, although I wish it could be less dry and there were more ambiance around the orchestra. It was recorded at a low level, so you need to turn up the volume to fully appreciate the performance.
A great Mahler Ninth and it now joins my list of desert island M9ths along with Bernstein, Levine, Solti, Karajan, and Ozawa.
It might not to a listener who doesn't hold up Bernstein and Tennstedt as the template for Mahler interpretation. What they both stand for - tempestuous, heartrending music-making - isn't found here. Haitink plays every movement for coolness. He almost stands there and waves his stick, reminding you that a great orchestra like the Bavarian Radio SO, now that we live in an era when the Mahler Ninth is probably more common fare than the Beethoven Ninth, can play the score splendidly on their own. Haitink's stand-by-and-watch style can produce mysteriously moving results at times; his reputation for blandness isn't deserved when you encounter him in the concert hall. But here there seems to be little grip in his conducting.
Each movement unfolds with exquisite playing, and the conductor must be credited with the impeccable balances and rich voicing of the score. But I can't figure out the mood of the two inner movements. The Landler in the second movement isn't biting, ironic, lumbering, or affectionate. Bypassing those alternatives, Haitink simply leads the music from bar to bar. The Rondo-Burleske is executed with impressive bravura by the orchestra, but there's no satire, snarl, or danger, no edge at all. At this level of proficiency you can stand back and admire how gorgeously the score is being played or ask for more passion and personality. Haitink is perfectly fine from the first viewpoint but hardly beginning to satisfy from the second.
He's too fine a conductor to accuse of inattention, even in old age, and this Ninth held my attention more than his old studio recording wit the Royal Concergebouw on Philips. Still...