Mark Elder / Hallé Orchestra

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 9 in D major, his last completed symphony (he succumbed to the Curse of the Ninth), is an extreme work: it's gigantic and it encompasses a wide variety of moods even for Mahler, from chaotic tumult to bitter disillusionment that seems to forecast the war to come in all but words, to utter float-among-the-clouds transcendence at the end. Conductors, accordingly, tend to favor extreme interpretations of the symphony, from Leonard Bernstein's awesomely drawn-out finale to the recent ultra-premium reading by Simon Rattle, taking full advantage of the instrumental powers of the Berlin Philharmonic. Here Mark Elder leads the prime British Mahler ensemble, the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, in a reading whose appeal may lie in the fact that it avoids extremes. Elder's approach is to keep the tempi to the middle of the road and let the players of the Hallé Orchestra, well-schooled in this music since the days of John Barbirolli, do their thing. The opening movement is expansive and detailed, with an overall lyric tone coalescing into giant climaxes. The middle movements are sardonic rather than brutal, and the finale truly does seize the soul as it should. The Hallé Orchestra is not the Berlin Philharmonic, but then one wouldn't want it to be: the players are more personally involved in what they're doing. Highly recommended for those who don't feel that emotional extremities are the way to go with this work.

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