MAHLER: Symphonies Nos. 9 and 10 (Adagio) – Gürzenich Orchestra, Cologne/ Markus Stenz – Oehms Classics – 2 SACDs

MAHLER: Symphonies Nos. 9 and 10 (Adagio) – Gürzenich Orchestra, Cologne/ Markus Stenz – Oehms Classics multichannel SACD OC654 (2 discs), Disc 1 – 78:12, Disc 2 – 23:19  (8/12/14) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

With the Mahler catalog so full it’s nice to hear a really fine interpretation and recording, and we get both in this two-disc set from Oehms Classics, which caps a fine cycle of the complete Mahler symphonies.

First up is the Mahler Symphony No. 9 in D Major. Written between 1908 and 1909, it is the last complete symphony Mahler wrote. It is mysterious and profound, highlighting Mahler’s deep love of the earth. Well-loved, there are at least a hundred recordings available of the 9th.

This SACD with Markus Stenz and the Gürzenich Orchestra, Cologne, is the last in what has been regarded as an impressive Mahler series. This Ninth is first class, both in terms of the performance and the recording. Stenz has a way of making the most familiar music sound fresh, and his interpretations of the Mahler’s score strike me as being somehow ‘right’. Stenz studied with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, and while the two interpretations of the symphony are quite different, Stenz must have been uplifted by his time with Bernstein.

The recording is excellent and very natural. It captures the elusive goal of sounding like one is listening to a live performance. This SACD gets everything right, from the capturing of the acoustics of the room in the rear channels, to giving us a very holographic image of the orchestra in the front channels. There is no excessive spotlighting of soloists, and the strings are smooth and revealing. I don’t think one could ask for a better recording or performance.

The second disc in the set gives us the Adagio from the unfinished Mahler Symphony No. 10. The composer had a reasonably complete version of the Tenth, but it was not orchestrated fully before his death. The Adagio was most complete, and that is usually performed. Mahler was in a heightened state of anxiety when he was writing the Tenth, due to his declining health and and his wife’s affair with another man.

The Tenth, or at least what we hear, is Mahler’s most dissonant work. It’s rendered beautifully by Stenz and his orchestra, and again it’s a recording of great merit technically.

This is the only Mahler I’ve heard in this series from Oehms Classics, but it certainly encourages me to listen to more. It’s surely among the finest of the recent Mahler recordings, and the performance is expressive and flawless. Highly recommended!

—Mel Martin

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