MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 – Columbia Sym. Orch./ Bruno Walter (1961) – avail. in various formats from HDTT DVD-R HDDVD325, 80:56 stereo 96/24 ****:
This recording with the hand-picked members of the Columbia Symphony is considered one of Bruno Walters’ greatest achievements. He had worked closely with Gustav Mahler and Mahler entrusted him with giving the premiere of the symphony on June 26, 1912. Walter was 84 when he made this recording, and it is much more serene and full of warmth than earlier performances of the work he conducted and recorded, as well as less full of the despair that some other conductors emphasize in the work, such as Bernstein. Walter still remembered about the premiere 50 years before, and the producer couldn’t keep him from stamping his foot loudly on the entrance of the strings in the second movement, which you can hear on the recording.
I like that this interpretation is not as dark and brooding as most other recordings of the Ninth. While I think I still prefer the excellent performance and sonics of MTT’s SACD with the San Francisco Symphony, the Walter reissue is loads better than the few of his recordings available on Sony Classical SACD and even worse, on standard CD. (We’ve reviewed nine different recordings of the Ninth—enter it in our site search—and one was Walter’s earlier and more emotional 1938 recording, enhanced by Pristine Audio.)
The hi-res transfer is so excellent it doesn’t sound anything like a recording from 1961. Unlike most HDTT discs, it doesn’t say it was transferred from a prerecorded tape, but the terrific sound he gets out of his hand-picked orchestra is magnificent. Surely a transcendent reading.