Mahler’s Symphony No 9 was published in 1910 by Universal Edition, a new Viennese publishing company whose roster Mahler had recently joined. Mahler was on friendly terms with its director, informing him during the run-up to the symphony’s publication that ‘the bowels are functioning normally’. The composer was not generally a healthy man, however, and a year later he was dead. He was 51. The Ninth Symphony was to be his last complete offering to his new publisher and to the rest of the world.
The first performance of the Ninth Symphony was given posthumously in Vienna on 26 June 1912. It was conducted by the famous Bruno Walter, who went on to make the first stereo recording of the work some fifty years later. In the fifty years since then the work has racked up many more recordings, of which Gergiev and the LSO’s is one of the most recent (recorded in March 2011).
It is fashionable to regard Gergiev’s Mahler as ‘controversial’, probably because he is Russian and hasn’t spent as much time psychoanalysing Mahler as other interpreters. Some critics didn’t find this Ninth Symphony painful enough, the orthodox view being that Mahler knew he was quitting the world when writing it. Gergiev’s view is that the symphony is legitimate territory for a different kind of reading. This performance is not weighed down with a sense of valediction but is more exploratory, sustaining itself delicately over a relatively short 79 minutes with a ravishing orchestral sound and playing that cannot be faulted.
The symphony’s position in the composer’s life is undoubtedly poignant, but this recording presents a fresh perspective and is somehow true to the spirit of the time when it was hoped other works by Mahler would follow. It offers a lighter and in many ways more purely musical interpretation than other, heavily-signposted readings. The result is one of surprising spontaneity and vigour.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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