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Gustav MAHLER (1860Ė1911)
Symphony No.9 in D (1909/1910) [81:16]
Symphony No.1 in D (1888) [50:49]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
rec. 10-13, 23 March 2003 (No.1); 1-3 June 2006 (No.9), Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. DDD
ARTEK AR00412 [56:51 + 75:16] 
Experience Classicsonline


One of the things I love about Mahlerís 9th Symphony is that, as he didnít live to hear the piece and thus make post-premi
Ťre changes, what we have are his first thoughts, pure and simple, undiluted by the experience of rehearsal and performance. Itís as finished a piece as any of his symphonies with the obvious exception of the 10th! Thereís more despair, more world-weariness, more tragedy in the Ninth, but no matter how you look at it, this isnít, a farewell Ė Mahler did that quite magnificently in the Abschied of Das Lied von der Erde. Even for a composer as visionary as Mahler he could never repeat that astonishing experience. Letís not forget that Mahler never heard Das Lied either. Perhaps itís this lack of second thoughts that make these final two works so special. 

The Ninth has had many superb recordings over the years, since the live performance by the Vienna Philharmonic under Bruno Walter in 1938. This, although imperfect, is an important historical document for it was Walter who conducted the premiŤre shortly after the composerís death. When this performance was given, the work was only 27 years old, so it was still quite a modern piece and the approach of the players was towards an almost contemporary composition. Playing the work today, in our post-holocaust, post-atomic, age, our perceptions of the music are quite different. So what does a conductor, born to Austrian parents in the USA, after the bomb, make of this music? 

Schwarz starts very well indeed, slow and mysterious, the mere flecks of music slipping into our consciousness as the various strands come together. He creates a fine first climax with the piccolo screaming at the top of the texture. The only flaw in the whole movement is that after creating the atmosphere, at the critical moment of tension there is insufficient power for the music to make its full, and devastating, impact. Itís a hair-raising instant at 19:00 where thereís a mad downward rush on the strings culminating in the opening idea played loudly on trombones and timpani, followed by distant fanfares in the brass. On the violins thereís a mad downward rush on the strings culminating in the opening idea played loudly on trombones and timpani, followed by distant fanfares in the brass. 

The middle movements more or less play themselves, and very enjoyable they are except that at the start of the second movement there is a distinct lack of power and bite in the violinsí first entry; itís polite where it needs to be rough. The long finale is finely handled, the build up to the repeat of the trumpet motif from the first movement is well controlled and the climax is glorious. 

This is a very good Mahler Ninth. Iíve listened to it four times today and enjoyed every hearing, but there lies the problem. Itís a good performance, but the interpretation is lightweight - too lightweight. Mahlerís Ninth is not, unless you are the most ardent Mahler fan, which I am not, the kind of work which can be listened to four times in a day! The experience should be one of overwhelming power and tragedy which is an emotional experience and wears you out. I am afraid that Schwarz fails to deliver that necessary emotional dagger to the chest. 

His performance of the 1st Symphony is an entirely different matter. The nature music of the first movement is very evocative. The ďwayfarerĒ theme is beautifully paced. The coda, where he rather naughtily, and unnecessarily, speeds up, is thrilling. The dance of the second movement is a touch on the light side but it works within the context of the interpretation. The grotesque third movement funeral march seemed too fast on first hearing but I got used to it and found it to be well thought out. The finale, the weakest movement without a doubt, goes over the top a bit too much. Itís good, but thereís not much you can do with a piece which is either loud or quiet, romantic or shouting. The triumphant coda is superb. This is young manís music and Schwarz has every bar at his fingertips. Despite my few reservations, he delivers a powerhouse of a performance! 

Throughout the Liverpool Philharmonic plays magnificently Ė what a great orchestra it is!. However they canít, and donít, make a real Mahler (Viennese) sound; it is very English. The orchestra cannot be faulted in what it gives for Mahler. Ultimately my dissatisfaction comes from the fact that the interpretation of the 9th Symphony is lacking the grit and feeling of universality which is so important to Mahler. Oddly, if you donít know Mahlerís music this could be a good introduction to it, as it wonít scare you off by being too serious and gut-wrenching. Ultimately though youíll want to be wrenched and for that you need Bruno Walter, or the great Barbirolli recording with the Berlin Philharmonic.

Bob Briggs 

 


 


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