Gunther Herbig

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Mahler: Symphony No. 9 Review

by James Leonard

Günther Herbig and Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken have recorded Mahler's Ninth Symphony. The question is: why? Why record another Ninth when there are already more than 50 recordings of it by everybody from Abbado to Zander, when there are multiple recordings of it by Bruno Walter, the man who gave the work its posthumous premiere, and Otto Klemperer, the man who was the composer's most stalwart advocate, when there are dozens of superlative recordings of it by Bernstein, Solti, Karajan, Tennstedt, Haitink, Kubelík...the list goes on and on?

Why? Because like any supreme artistic masterpiece, Mahler's Ninth is infinitely deep and endlessly moving, and because Herbig and the Saarbrücken have something to say about it. What they have to say isn't original -- their Ninth, like all great Ninths, is immensely beautiful and enormously tragic -- but Herbig and the Saarbrücken say it very, very skillfully. Herbig is a supremely adroit conductor and the Saarbrücken is a superbly trained orchestra, and together there's nothing in the Ninth they can't handle, from the biggest fortissississimo tuttis to the smallest pianissississimo morendos.

And it's not like Herbig and the Saarbrücken's performance doesn't have its own character. The big tune in the opening Andante comodo is more sweetly sung than most; the rhythm in the "Im tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers" is more irresistibly rhythmic than many; the counterpoint in the "Rondo: Burleske" is more acerbic than some; and the harmonies in the closing Adagio are more consoling than all but a few. Captured in Berlin Classics' very, very live sound -- you can sometimes hear the score being turned -- Herbig and the Saarbrücken's Ninth is one of the greats. Anyone who loves the work -- and that includes anyone with a heart -- will enjoy this performance.

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