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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 9 [84:41]
Symphony No. 10: Adagio [28:12]
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. live. Kloster Eberbach, Germany. 27-28 June 2009 (9), 28-29 June 2008 (10)
Bonus: Introductions to both symphonies and the Mahler Project by Paavo Järvi [18:30]
Subtitles for bonus in English, German, Korean, Japanese
Video: 1080i 16:9 Sound DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM Stereo [136:00]
Review of DTS-HD surround
C MAJOR Blu-ray 729804 [112:53]

I have commented repeatedly in reviewing this series that Paavo Järvi is a very consistent Mahlerian. Here in the Ninth and the Adagio of the Tenth his grasp falters. Both performances exhibit the characteristics noted earlier: fast passages are a little faster than usual, slow music is slower and wind details are always brought out. Somehow this does not pay off as it did in the other symphonies (3 & 4 - review; 7 & 8 - review) (I haven't heard 5 and 6). It would be misleading to suggest that nothing works out; much of the Ninth is excellent. The Tenth is different because he only performs the Adagio and that seems to me deficient.

Starting with the talks: Järvi views the Ninth as a work in which all theatricality has been excised and sounding 'like chamber music'. He describes the Tenth as almost too painful to hear. This last is a weak excuse for his failure to perform the Cooke performing version. As a member of the younger generation of Mahlerians he should really have accepted it as part of the canon; indeed his orchestra have already recorded it, in 1992, with Eliahu Inbal. It is, in my view, a blemish on the series. Talking of the project overall he states that 'nice playing is not adequate', adding, 'nice anything is not adequate'. He speaks with great affection of the Frankfurt orchestra and is undoubtedly right that they are a superb orchestra who play with all the commitment required in these magnificent works.

The Ninth is the main work to consider. The opening steals in as if from far away. The entire opening paragraph has a sense of hesitancy and Järvi uses the rhythmic instability of the music to emphasize that uncertainty. He achieves the seamless tempo transitions Mahler asks for but overall this is a very slow Andante, too slow for its own good because the precipitous collapse portrayed by Mahler fails to hit the listener as it should. For an account of this music that leaves one shaking, one should turn to the Leipzig/Chailly blu-ray on Accentus. Järvi takes the second movement at a relaxed tempo which does encourage some beautiful solo playing and highlights the gentleness present in the music. By contrast the Rondo is very fast, as Mahler asks, and this generates some extreme variation making an already alarming piece still more nerve-wracking. The strings really dig in to the opening of the great final Adagio and the conductor demonstrates a more intense grasp of all this huge paragraph. The music ends in stunned silence and the audience hardly dare to start applauding. Even so - I could not escape the feeling of disappointment after all the good things in earlier symphonies and in this present performance. I turned to the abovementioned Leipzig/Chailly disc and found a performance of quite demoniac power and furthermore a recording not suffering from the so-so picture quality of this entire Frankfurt series. The sound too was much wider in range, both of dynamics and frequencies. When combined with the truncated Tenth, this present disc has to be classed as respectable but simply not up to the earlier issues.

With none of the Blu-ray cycles involving a single conductor being complete, Abbado did not reach the Eighth or Tenth and Chailly is yet to complete, this almost-complete Järvi series is well worth hearing. There is nothing second-class about the Frankfurt Radio Symphony and Paavo Järvi in this music.

Dave Billinge


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