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Gergiev's Mahler 9

Mahler Symphony No 9; Symphony No 10 (Adagio)

London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev

Barbican Hall 3 March 2011

One of the most important works in my musical life, Mahler 9 was first embraced on Bruno Walter's Vienna 78s soon after the War. Gergiev's interpretations of Mahler have divided critics, but pleased the LSO's supporters at the Barbican.

From reviewers' seats mid stalls, we found the ninth, taken briskly and with impressive virtuosity, too much "in our faces", with raucous brass too loud for comfort. Others, who know the Mahler scores well (they're no longer welcome in our darkened concert halls) had much to criticise about detail - e.g. Classical Source reviewing their New York performance a few days previously, and the first of two London performances on 2 March; both very negative.

For the defence, see The Guardian.

The completed first movement of No 10 (given before the 9th in New York) was played in London after the interval; many people didn't stay for it. That gave us an opportunity to retreat to the back row, from where the blend of the strings, especially, was enhanced. But Gergiev signally failed to build the nine-note dissonance of the whole orchestra which precedes the coda - "one of the most terrifying in all music" [David Nice] - to its full effect.

Presence at live concerts is generally accepted as the sine qua non for symphonic music, but for Mahler 9 our recent experience at home of Barenboim's DVD with his Staatskapelle Berlin (seen and heard on good new equipment) takes the palm. Gergiev's 9th was being recorded on 2/3 March for LSO Live.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Mahler Symphony No 9



I did not rush to put this newly released disc of Mahler 9 on the CD player, having recently admired and commended the live DVD versions of Barenboim and Abbado.

However, any collection of early 20C orchestral music needs several versions of Mahler 9 and this one proves a worthy companion to others you may already have.

Its sound (Mallinson, Stokes et al) is superb, incomparably better than what we heard from prestigious "press seats" near the front at The Barbican, thus belying the common assumption that live in the concert hall is best.

And there is a good note by Stephen Johnson to remind us that in 1909, a year after knowing his heart condition diagnosis, he took on a gruelling contract with the NYPO for 46 concerts in the first year, and in 1910 he nearly completed a 10th symphony.

I did not follow the CD with a score, and would anyow not feel qualified to nit-pick between these three great conductors. "Gergiev's Mahler" raised some critical hackles, but on this experience at home, I would ally myself with Guy Damman in The Guardian - - The London Symphony Orchestra's principal conductor has his sceptics, and they are rarely more vocal than when it comes to his Mahler - - Gergiev's reading works because it marries the hesitancies of the outer movements with the garish ebullience of the inner two, where gestures of high-spirited brilliance and rambunctious self-confidence seemed to half-buckle in self-doubt. - - The players were convinced: from the rosy vein struck by the strings to the honed gestures of the woodwind, here was an orchestra at one with itself and its director.

Recommended to 21st C Mahlerians.

Peter Grahame Woolf