MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 – Bamberger Symphony/ Jonathan Nott -Tudor multichannel SACD (2 discs)7162 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
The Mahler 9th is a symphonic universe, a summation of that form initiated by Haydn and sculpted by Beethoven and Bruckner. Listener involvement in the 9th is heady stuff. The work deals with the trials associated with living with always the nearness of death. If, as Keats puts it, “death is life’s high mead, then life’s journey is the story. As did Stauss in Ein Heldenleben (1898), the 9th Symphony cites Mahler’s earlier works. But these references, rather than heroic, are invariably ironic. The visceral joy found in the second movement Landler becomes progressively bitter and farcical. The third movement Burlesk reaches an ultimate whirligig of ironic energy. The final movement Adagio initially emulates Bruckner, but becomes increasingly unadorned until it is an empty shell, skeletal, bereft of life. The first movement Andante Comoto summarizes Mahler’s life journey. It is a treatise upon the ebb and flow of human existence, the ups and downs of the body and spirit, an overview of the movements to come.
Familiar with recordings by Walter (two), Szell, Giulini, Bernstein, Dohnanyi, Gielen, Barbirolli and Karajan, I find this new version by Jonathan Nott and The Bamberg Symphony comparable or surpassing those recordings in interpretation and sound quality. Nott reveals a consistently coherent view of the 9th from the opening three notes of Andante Comoto through the terminal hushed string phrases of the final Adagio. He takes great risk with extreme dynamics and tempi to achieve the correct dramatic emphasis . Very fine playing is drawn from The Bambergers. The winds bray and crackle with energy. In the final movement the string section does indeed play stets grossen ton, yet are never strident. They glow throughout the performance.
Tudor’s multichannel SACD recording becomes the ideal vehicle to deliver this magnificent work to the listener. Hall ambience, orchestral placement, depth and balance are magically provided. Only the spontaneity of witnessing the live performance is missing. I cannot praise this recording highly enough. It presents the majesty of the Mahler 9th with near perfection.
— Ronald Legum