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Monday, April 1, 2019

Mahler 9 Live from Boston Symphony Hall, Benjamin Zander, Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra

If you are fortunate you live a long enough life and if you are curious and open it gives you time to explore musical treasures and other such things. One of the joys of such a life is to find that as you experience more time,  some works open up to you in ways they did not when you were 22, say. That I've found true of Dostoevsky "Brothers Karamazov" and so too lately I find Mahler's "Symphony No. 9" opening its doors ever wider. That is the case as I listen repeatedly to Benjamin Zander's new version conducting the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (Brattle Media 2-CDs).

The opening half-hour long andante has always seemed worthy to me, but hearing Zander and the Youth Orchestra do it now, as I contemplate life more than I might have before, it speaks to me like it never did. The same feeling I get from the finale, the molto adagio. It helps that I know Mahler's life better now, how everything was not joy, that Vienna in the end betrayed him and he left it for the United States. You hear a poignant sadness to the bookend movements of the 9th that Zander and the youths bring out well.

And then the Landlers movement (second movement) is filled with an unvarnished affection for Austrian folk roots tempered by a kind of regretful nostalgia. I hear his 9th now in ways I did not, maybe even could not as a generally optimistic youth. Is it ironic that a Youth Orchestra of the Boston Philharmonic under Zander should be the ones to teach me something about the full life span? I suspect it is Zander's sensibility that is infused in the orchestra and that is why.

Yet these youngsters sound incredibly poised regardless. The winds and horns alone have a beauty and strength that maybe 40 years ago not every adult symphony orchestra out there had. It may say something about the impact of someone like Mahler and his beautifully present wind and brass writing, that from the mid-late Romantic period on there was an increasing assumption of adept virtuosity in such sections so that today the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra has it remarkably well, even in the French Horns!

And only a lengthy experience I suppose enables one to compare and contrast in such ways. I must say that the strings too, and the orchestra as a whole sound quite fit in this recording. I no doubt have heard more sparkling versions of the Landler movement, though this one has nothing wrong with it, yet the opening and closing movements have a deeply unrushed, feelingfully overt dynamic to them that alone makes this version very welcome to my listening self.

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra is very impressive. If this is any indication, the future of symphony orchestras is in good hands. Most importantly they give us a fine reading of Mahler's last completed symphony. I will be happy to hear it again and again. I recommend it if you are open to a new reading. And remarkably, it is live for all that! Listen.

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