Michael Schønwandt / Danish National Symphony Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 9

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Live recordings of Gustav Mahler's symphonies can be tricky, showing an orchestra at its most sublime or exposing its weaknesses, and sometimes they are a mixture of both. This Challenge Classics release of the Symphony No. 9 in D major, performed by Michael Schønwandt and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra on January 5 and 7, 2012, captures some instances of loose ensemble playing, even though this is a blending of the best takes. The impression that the orchestra is a bit hesitant is formed in the first movement, where the delicate, chamber-like writing calls for precision and close listening between players. While the orchestra's looseness here doesn't sabotage the performance, it's enough to set the listener on edge. The Ländler movement is tighter and the parts are clearer, if a little rushed, but the Rondo-Burleske offers the firmest playing, even at a lightning-fast tempo. The closing Adagio is quite lush and relaxed with a fair amount of rubato, and while this isn't the cleanest playing, it is still quite thoughtful and moving. On balance, this is a compelling concert performance of one of Mahler's most challenging symphonies, so even with the imperfections and noticeable audience noises, it's a worthwhile recording to hear.

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