Simon Rattle’s Mahler 9

Some interpretations of Mahler’s
Ninth Symphony benefit from live recordings, and Rattle’s is one of them,
with tempos and textures that convey the score as vividly as Mahler composed
it. The details of the score are important, as evident in the fair copy of the
work, which was not yet performed when Mahler died. Those who have had the
privilege of examining that manuscript, though, are aware of the revisions that
it contains as the composer annotated it thoroughly. In contrast to the earlier
draft score, which contains some personal exclamations, about youth, love and
farewell, the fair copy lacks such indications. Instead, it contains details of
scoring, articulation, expression, and phrasing that convey instead the
vitality of the music, which emerges with appropriate style in this recent
recording of the work.

As much as many have special feelings about the “Finale” of the Ninth,
the first movement stands out a seminal work that bridges the Romantic world
and twentieth-century music. In this recording Rattle offers a thoughtful
reading of the first movement, which lasts almost twenty-nine minutes. It is a
spaciously planned performance that unfolds convincingly, with the musical
logic behind the score evident in its execution, with the brief motifs found at
the beginning of the movement clearly defined so that the musical narrative
proceeds logical from the opening as the larger themes of the exposition take
shape. The details of accompanying figures, including fanfares, glissandi, and
other elements support the thematic content of the piece likewise have their
place, as the contrast between smaller musical ideas and the larger structure
becomes a dynamic feature of Rattle’s interpretation. More importantly, the
sense of line, of musical continuity, is always apparent in this performance.

A similar masterful interpretation guides the performance of the two inner
movements, with the second benefitting from the fine playing of the Berlin
Philharmonic as it renders the details of the score with nuance and delicacy.
The various orchestral colors remain as distinct in the performance as they
occur in Mahler’s score. Tempos are likewise fluid, as Rattle brings the
score to life as convincingly here was in the first movement. The sometimes
angular lines in the low brass are characterized well, without the result ever
seeming grotesque or otherwise departing from the fine sense of style that
emerges from this performance.

The brass section brings this kind of finesse to the third movement, which
has a sense of urgency that guides the ideas as they unfold. Here the woodwinds
demonstrate their fine timbre and sense of ensemble in the textures Mahler
scored carefully in this music. As clear as the details appear in this
performance, they serve the line, which supports Rattle’s keen sense of the
musical narrative in a virtuosic performance of the “Rondo-Burleske.”

Yet it is the “Finale” that many listeners recall strongly, and here
Rattle offers a reading that supports the score without lapsing into
heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality. In following the details of Mahler’s
score, Rattle serves the sense of music well, as it rich textures and full
sonorities of the work are rendered vividly. The tone is entirely appropriate
to the tempos, as it is possible to hear the articulation of chords and pitches
resonate well throughout the movement. This interpretation is consistent with
the elegiac sense that emerges in Rattle’s performances of “Der Abschied”
in Das Lied von der Erde, a sense that is all the more admirable for
the lack of verbal text in the Ninth to serve as a guide. The contrasts of
texture and dynamics support the music line, which is clearly presented here as
in the other three movements of this exemplary performance of Mahler’s
Symphony no. 9. The conclusion complements the first movement, with the dynamic
tension sustained through the final pitches, as they dissolve into silence at
the end of this remarkable recording.

This is Rattle’s second recording of Mahler’s Ninth, with the other
released separately and later reissued as part of the set of the composer’s
symphonies by the conductor. As strong as the earlier recording may be, the
second merits attention for subtle differences that it contains. The
exceptional playing of the Berlin Philharmonic allows Rattle to create an
outstanding recording of this masterpiece.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=EMI Classics 5-01228-2
product_title=Gustav Mahler: Symphony no. 9.
product_by=Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle, conductor.
product_id=EMI Classics 5-01228-2 [2CDs]