Alan Gilbert / Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Alan Gilbert's debut as a Mahler conductor was with the Adagietto from the composer's Fifth Symphony, with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the 2003 Gustav Mahler Musikwochen in Dobbiaco, Italy. That performance, searing in its intensity and thrilling in its controlled strength, promised much for his first full-scale foray into the fin de siècle master's oeuvre. Yet Gilbert didn't jump in with an early work -- the youthfully passionate First, or the cataclysmic Second -- but with the Ninth, Mahler's last completed work, which plumbs the heights and depths of life and death in music of frightening immediacy and overwhelming vehemence. Gilbert's virtuosic performance of the Ninth with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, however, stays resolutely clear of the work's existential implications. Gilbert knows what he's doing and elicits a finely calibrated and subtly nuanced performance from the players. But he doesn't convey the fire of the opening Andante, the bite of the Ländler, the bile of the Rondo-Burleske, or, especially, the passionate expressivity of the closing Adagio. In this work, Mahler confronted his mortality. In this performance, Gilbert and the orchestra describe Mahler confronting his mortality, but they don't live it with him. Gilbert is already a very good Mahler conductor, but this performance shows that he has not yet ripened into a great Mahler interpreter. BIS' super audio sound is clear and clean, but oddly distant.

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