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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 9 - Chailly

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Reviews: 8

Site review by akiralx November 30, 2004
Performance:   Sonics:  
Superbly played and vivid realisation of a work which is not in fact one of my favourite Mahler symphonies - but if any recording could convert a listener it is this.

The performance is pretty expansive (nigh-on 90 mins) but remarkably well sustained, in the outer movements especially, although the 2nd movement is also intensely played. The great Finale is gripping throughout, at a slowish tempo (28+ mins - 10 mins longer than Bruno Walter's famous 1938 recording!) - with the refinement of the string playing coming across superbly - as do the characterful winds and powerful timpani. The weight of sound at climaxes is remarkably powerful while the closing pages have a vivid presence despite the string playing at a dynamic barely above a whisper.

Sonically this is an excellent multi-channel SACD, in 4.0 (with no centre channel). Strangely enough the Concertgebouw Orchestra are actually better caught in this recording than on the recent Chailly Mahler 3 which is in 5.1.

The vividness, warmth and clarity are remarkable - though the signal from the rear channels is more than full enough, almost being too prominent (as on Tilson Thomas' Mahler 1 with the San Francisico SO) but not quite. If it's straightforward on your system you could turn them down a couple of notches in fact.

This is the only tiny flaw which prevents it from being nigh-on perfect, although this SACD surpasses most others in the almost tangible quality of the orchestral sound which for most listeners will be more than adequate compensation.

Review by nickc October 15, 2004 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Expansive (89.49 by my timing) performance of Mahler's last and greatest symphony. Only in the second movement did I feel the tempo was a touch too slow, though this movement is meant to be a world-weary, kind of clumsy parody of a landler. The last four or five minutes of the finale are as heart-rending as you could wish. Beautifully played on the whole.
The recording in MC expands through your room with a fair bit of reflected sound from the rears which must be tamed by turning them down a few notches. It is a natural Concertgebouw ambience and I must say I prefer to be a bit closer to the action. The strings don't really sing out like I could have hoped. In comparison I played the Ivan Fischer Philips Dvorak 8/9 and the orchestra just jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat! Of course Mahler 9 is not Dvorak 9 and should never be played in the same vein but I personally like to be closer to the action. This is only a minor point and others may quite rightly disagree with me. Anyway highly recommended.

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Review by jdaniel@jps.net October 20, 2004 (15 of 15 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
On the heels of an excellent Chailly Mahler 3rd, comes and exceedingly excellent Mahler 9th. The first thing I noticed about this performance is the careful attention to balance and a preciseness of intonation which reveal chordal and polyphonic treasures hitherto unknown to me. The work of conductor and orchestra pays off handsomely in these respects in the last mov’t, where Mahler’s writing can be extremely dense in the strings.

The scherzo is as wicked as ever, yet Chailly allows plenty of room for Mahler’s orchestra to breathe. Special mention goes to the solo trumpet in the slow middle section of this mov’t—it’s beautifully lyrical; while the orchestral accompaniment is appropriately hallucinogenic and yearning by turns.

The Adagio finale is beautifully dispatched—notice how lyrical yet purposeful the solo horn is, and how luxurious the strings sound (!) yet listen to all those exquisite chords they are able to pull from the score. The climax of the mov’t has never sounded so huge and transparent to me, as the orchestra collapses into the fate motif, then come the soli strings moving downward one note at a time. They’re intense, but some may be disappointed that they can’t hear bows cracking and strings snapping. The final return of the great horn theme is grand, but paradoxically introvert—no “quotes” around the final big farewell before the quiet closing pages—it just “is” and the tragic import here is such that I felt as though I was eavesdropping. I’ve heard other performances where this moment sounds quite valedictory. Resident Mahlerians: what does Mahler ask for here? Horn-crack phobics: the horns sing their hearts out, but there are no wobbles or cracks.

Alas, the first mov't doesn't quite hold together persuasively, the astonishing virtuosity of the orchestra notwithstanding. Chailly doesn't make much of the more phantasmagorical aspects of the mov't, such as when the tympani quietly thumps out the motif with bass-clarinet grotesqueries in the background; it doesn't sound as sinister as it could. The climactic gong-stroke is way too bright to sound properly cataclysmic, but that's a matter of personal taste, I guess. My humble reservations about the first mov't aside, I found the rest of the symphony to be absolutely compelling--do give it a try. 5+ stars for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th mov'ts; 4 stars for the 1st, if I were forced to judge an overall performance in such a way.

The recording in surround is the best ever. (No center channel even though the little surround grid on the back has 6 dots.) Very wide, reverberant; yet the ensemble is front and center with percussion palpable and window rattling. Strings are as SACD warm as they can be, even in the most strident passages.

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Review by thepilot November 28, 2004 (1 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
If there was ever a perfect Mahler Ninth this is definitively it. The sound is perfect, the Mch mix is realistic and wonderfully well balanced, the orchestra play like Angels and Chailly give the performance of his life. Run out and buy this disc!

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Review by Lawrence Schulman November 29, 2004 (4 of 14 found this review helpful)
This SACD was recently reviewed in the French classical music magazine Diapason. It was rated very low compared to other older recordings of Mahler's 9th, in particular those of Walter, Haitink and the recently re-released Ancerl. As for the quality of the recording itself, the critic states, "Beautiful, multi-channel image, spaceous and large. Good depth. Excellent definition. Important dynamic." He takes exception to the quality of the interpretation itself.

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Review by Oscar June 9, 2005 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Chailly concludes with this recording the complete set of Mahler symphonies. Spanning 15 years, the slow progression shows in a mature and wholly integrated reading that highlights Chailly´s characters as Mahler conductor: clarity of line, a certain detachemet from histrionics, and a looking-forward quest for the modernity of the sonorities in the orchestral writing. Chailly during his tenure at the helm of the Concertgebow has encompassed a lot of XX century repertoire, thus the orchestra has gained clarity and litheness in it´s music making (at least under this conductor).
Recorded at the Concertgebow Concert Hall, the accoustics are spacious and accomodate quite well the big sound of this huge orchestra. The recording is very detailed, without instrumental highlighting, and the surround sound is superb.

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Review by dschawv July 30, 2005 (1 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
An absolutely outstanding issue in this series.
I have the stereo and mc versions and enjoy both equally.
What I find above the MTT version is the solo playing of the flute player.
Both are very enjoyable. Above all, the sound and performances are wonderful.

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Review by Bob--- May 11, 2014 (4 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I wouldn't take anything away from the performance, but I feel compelled to add some balance to some of the gushing reviews about the sound.

It's not that great.

I note that the other reviews are around 10 years old at the time of me writing his; maybe expectations were lower then. It's true that DSD technology has improved since then, just as redbook did in its first several years of existence. On the other hand, I have some wonderful a sounding discs from that era and earlier. Reading those other reviews now is like reading about the Emperor's new (old?) clothes. The sound on this disc is quite distorted and muddy. Naturally there is more clarity in the multichannel, but still the sonic problems are there. Switch to an RCO Live disc from several years later and you will hear the contrast. It's night and day.

Just sayin'.

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