The recent and happy release of Simon Rattle's conduction-interpretation of a live and lively Mahler Symphonie Nr. 9 (BR Klassik 900205) is an occasion for some rejoicing in my neck of the woods. My appreciation of the ten Mahler symphonies has roughly followed a chronological order with me, partly because that was the way I followed in my intense program of listens and coming to know the corpus over the years. It is also true for me at least that the latter symphonies I ended up with versions originally not particularly defining, at least for six and nine.
And here with this version of the ninth I am lifted aloft, thanks to Rattle's exalted, heady reading and the ready response of the entire Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, strings, winds, brasses, everyone of necessity attacks each passage with detailed feelingful presence, which Mahler in his Viennese exacting professional and recall modes demands and ever has, surpassing the expressive limits of what came before him, maybe more so in the latter that in his earlier works? And we are right in supposing that a definitive performance requires all the synthesizing that orchestral Vienna originally began to presuppose. It is as if Rattle and the orchestra were recalling the symphony lovingly from some past which of course necessarily the music has dwelt within, and now we have it all unveiled for us in dazzling silhouette for this recording. Rattle here sometimes makes the orchestra into a personal piano, into a 100-member rubato expression.
I see in my search for the cover image on Google that there have been a number of records by Rattle of the Ninth. After hearing this wonderful version I must say I might well like them all, might want to hear the lot of them for sure. But what matters in this live reading is the monumental wholeness of balanced and specially expressive presence of all the Mahler wrote out in brilliance for the entirety. It is not the "strings plus rest of orchestra ornamenting" that might comprise the assumption of the pre-Mahlerian orchestrations out there all too often. It is the epitomizing expressions of each section and parts of sections with the full congruity and depth of musical being that makes of it all a beautifully rewarding reading.
In the course of this fabulous performance we begin to understand fully the lucid expression Mahler gives to us of his lifeworld as looking back, in a kind of gently, then assertiveuvely yet still then decidedly melancholy reverie. It is a testament to the full vision of Rattle and his successful realization and the wonderfully responsive articulation of the parts by each in the orchestra, and finally the equally brilliant engineering-production of this live recording so that each part is faithfully reproduced in an exuberant fullness of balance. I have never heard such a performance of this ninth. Now I think I understand the greatness of the work as Mahler might have wished us to be experiencing it today!
Do not miss this one!