Jonathan Nott

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Since 2004, Jonathan Nott and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra have been turning out a remarkable body of recordings in the super audio format for Tudor, covering repertoire ranging from Schubert to Stravinsky, but spending a fair amount of energy in playing the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. This 2009 release for the centennial of the Symphony No. 9 in D major is spread across two SACDs, which may seem extravagant in terms of cost, but it is of tremendous benefit for sound quality. The orchestra is amazingly rich and deep, and the dynamic range is one of the widest imaginable, thanks to the extra data that can be stored on two discs. Beyond the phenomenal reproduction, this is a marvelously expressive reading that plumbs the depths of Mahler's despair and scales the heights of his ecstasy, yet all the while maintains a philosophical calm that sees both as part of the same existence. This symphony is regarded by many as Mahler's swan song, for it is the last symphony he completed, and much has been made of his obsession with death in this work (perhaps only exceeded in his harrowing sketches for the Symphony No. 10). Nott brings across the broad themes of regret, sorrow, and resignation that are essential emotions in this work, but he seems to miss communicating the fear and creepiness that are also important: the stealthy chromatic lines that suggest the approach of death in the first movement, or the loud blasts of the fate motive in the horns and trombones, are just two of the macabre touches Nott could have exploited more for chilling effect. Even so, that lack of morbidity notwithstanding, this is still a potent reading of the symphony, and Nott does well in conveying the humanity and pathos Mahler put into it. While this is unlikely to replace many listeners' favorite recordings, it is decidedly worth hearing occasionally, especially when terrific audio is required.

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