Simon Rattle

Mahler 9

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Before Simon Rattle, only two other conductors had recorded Mahler's Ninth Symphony with both the Wiener Philharmoniker and the Berliner Philharmoniker: Claudio Abbado and Leonard Bernstein (although it should be added that Bernstein also recorded the work with the New York Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw Orchestra and that his Vienna performance is available only as a video.) Placed in that company, Rattle emerges about mid-pack, making a stronger impression than Bernstein by eliciting supremely taught playing from the Berlin group, but falling short of Abbado's unrelenting intensity and attention to detail. Where Rattle is content to allow the Vienna Orchestra to cruise on sensual autopilot, Abbado demands complete attention, forcing the ensemble to play even better than it usually does. So, while the sound of the world's most virtuosic orchestra tearing loose in the Rondo-Burleske under Rattle is undeniably breathtaking, one may miss the warmth, passion, and dedication of the performance with Abbado. However, the English conductor manifestly knows the work backwards and forwards, and his leadership is highly illuminating in the works knottiest pages. EMI's digital sound for Rattle is lush and full, but, again, not nearly as vividly present as DG's digital sound for Abbado.

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