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Remy Franck
Pizzicato, September 2016

In a relatively fast account of Mahler’s Ninth, Daniel Barenboim unveils the heavy contrasts of the music, shows cliffs and gaps in a very dramatic way, before ending the work in the most moving sadness. In a very good sound recording, the listener fully experiences the great mystery of this symphony. © 2016 Pizzicato

Brian Buerkle
American Record Guide, May 2012

There are no problems with the orchestra, sound quality, or video footage—each aspect is wonderful. The orchestra is immaculate, the sound is vivid, and the video is gorgeous. Barenboim finds a natural sounding tempo and the Berlin players offer a style that’s brimming with charm. The night and day aspects of the turbulent Rondo of III are well managed. Much of the movement is ferocious and vulgar, while the central section is beautifully dream-like and nostalgic. As IV begins, we really get to enjoy the wonderful sound of the strings—so deeply colored and resonant. The climax of IV…is the best moment of the whole performance; the strings are a massive force of nature, the gallant horns and trumpets press forward with unfettered confidence, and a perfectly timed cymbal crash brings it all together at just the right moment. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, December 2011

This is one of the finest Mahler 9s I have ever heard (or seen, for that matter). Barenboim recorded a swift, urgent account of this symphony for Warner Classics a few years ago, live in concert with the same orchestra. The interpretation here is very much the same, but timings are slightly quicker, the orchestral playing is even tighter and more refined, and the emotional still deeper. Those for whom resignation is the key note of this symphony will baulk at this live concert recording, but its passion and intensity are unique. © MusicWeb International

Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, September 2011

In 2009, in anticipation of the Mahler centennial(s), Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim took the Staatskapelle Berlin on the road with the complete Mahler symphonies, arriving at Carnegie Hall in May. Barenboim conducted symphonies 1, 5, 7, and 9 as well as Das Lied von der Erde; Boulez conducted the remainder (the orchestral songs were also divided between the two). Though there were some criticisms of performances heard during the series (at least in New York), the Ninth was an unqualified success. This concert, recorded at the beginning of the whirlwind tour, demonstrates why.

As the program notes make clear, Barenboim eschews the extramusical associations common to discussions about Mahler and concentrates on the sounding music. His attention to detail is significant, with the beginning of the symphony closely scrutinized as the main theme is built from its fragmentary cells. The intensity builds quickly: Barenboim wastes no time in exploring the emotional terrain. His is the antithesis of performances like those of Zander and Tilson Thomas, who work more slowly, acquiring depth and intensity. Barenboim has actually shaved almost two minutes off the timing of his 2006 live recording with this orchestra (Warner, reviewed in Fanfare 31:1)—the performance as a whole is nearly four minutes shorter. This further concentration makes contrasts between darkness and light and dynamics that much more obvious. One is less aware of the broad sweep of this Andante and more aware of the turmoil of emotion—“do not go gentle into that good night.” Calm is finally achieved in the exquisitely prolonged coda.

Winds and strings are equally prominent in the Ländler. The movement is surprisingly light on its feet; this is not the heavily accented manner of Rattle, for instance. The waltz flies along, almost breathless, though the pace slackens for the slower Ländler; the waltz resumes “a bit faster than before,” as Mahler directs. There is piquancy to the interplay of themes that is often missing from less lively interpretations. The Rondo-Burleske is very precisely performed; the counterpoint of which Mahler was so proud is here very carefully preserved without the often-chaotic character of less disciplined performances. One notices not so much the speed as the concentrated power of these tightly wound themes. In the Trio, the sudden cessation of nervous energy is even more effective, as one glimpses the profound emotion of the finale. The furious coda is truly impressive.

After the onslaught of the Rondo, the Adagio’s sigh is indeed calming. At four seconds over 22 minutes in duration, this is one of the more flowing finales on record (Walter’s 1938 timing is a fleet 18), yet one is less aware of the pace than of the intensity of the playing. As in the opening movement, the swell of the emotional tide sweeps one along, though there is no anger here, just regret at what has been lost, and then acceptance.

By concentrating on just a few of the symphonies, Barenboim has refined his interpretations to the elemental. At a time when just about every conductor is tackling Mahler, and complete cycles abound, Barenboim’s is one of the few truly distinctive Ninths. The addition of the visual element of the DVD gives one some sense of how this is achieved.

The bonus program adds interesting background to the concert. The idea for the cycle came about while Boulez was visiting Berlin, conducting the Mahler Sixth Symphony. Boulez agreed to take on the “choral” symphonies because he hadn’t conducted them as often, which allowed Barenboim to concentrate on “his” symphonies. Barenboim on Boulez: “I’m happy to share the cycle with Pierre Boulez, first because he’s such a great musician and conductor, but also because of the way he conducts Mahler and the way he makes the music altogether. He gives the orchestra a lot of space in rehearsal. Sometimes it makes him look unemotional: He stands there, waving without a baton, and it looks like he’s uninvolved. Quite the opposite! He’s very involved. But he lets every member of the orchestra express themselves.” Boulez on Barenboim: “I watch when he conducts, how he handles his orchestra, what gestures he uses. That’s very impressive for me because I see, ‘Ah, that’s what he does to achieve his goal.’ I might not have achieved it the same way.” This rare cooperation between such high-profile musicians tells us as much about the men as it does about the music. These spoken views (in German, with subtitles provided) are supplemented with snippets of rehearsals featuring both conductors.

The sound (available in stereo and DTS 5.1 surround) is exemplary. The audio perspective is quite closely focused, with excellent detail, definition, and clarity; this close focus draws the listener into the performance. The video production is evenly divided between orchestra and conductor with a few distant shots of the entire stage. The picture is extremely sharp. Anyone seriously interested in Mahler should seek out this new DVD.

James Inverne
Gramophone, September 2011

It has taken quite some years for Daniel Barenboim’s name to be associated with the works of Mahler in the way that is with those of, say, Wagner. Some of his Mahler recordings were perhaps made a little early, but there’s certainly nothing unfinished about this.

Whether the non-rivalry, or whatever one should call it, with Pierre Boulez in this shared cycle has projected him further into Mahler’s sound world, this account is overwhelming.

Ken Smith
Gramophone, September 2011

Barenboim’s Mahler Ninth instantly comes up against Abbado’s recent DVD

“We don’t want to enter a ‘friendly competition’; that would be truly stupid,” says Pierre Boulez in the bonus documentary explaining the Mahler Project, his tag-team symphonic cycle with conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. That may be; but for those of us with limited funds or shelf space, this DVD is indeed in competition, not least with Claudio Abbado’s account with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, which was released on DVD only a few weeks previously (Accentus, 6/11).

Barenboim and Mahler have not always seemed a natural fit but the relationship has obviously grown closer over the years. Barenboim’s description of balancing the initial shock of discovery with knowledge internalised from later study is not only palpable here in performance but places his approach in stark relief against Abbado’s. Where Abbado often pores over every note, Barenboim concerns himself with the phrase. Mahlerians with a stopwatch fetish will notice some dramatic differences in tempo, and yet Barenboim’s performance seems not only unrushed but precisely long enough. Abbado seems to wallow in impending death; Barenboim looks past the pathos and finds life. Shelf space notwithstanding, I’m not sure why we need to chose only one. The days are long gone since I thought Bernstein’s account was enough.

The camerawork here is strong, bringing the viewer into the most interesting sections of the orchestra at any given moment and doing so in a particularly musical fashion. For Barenboim and Boulez, the Mahler Project was as much about developing a relationship with a particular orchestra as it was with the composer; short of actually being with them in the concert hall, this is probably the best way to experience the results.

Robert Cummings
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Several things about this recording strike you immediately: tempos are brisk—which is generally a good thing in this symphony—the orchestral playing is often muscular and brusque, and the sound is vivid and immediate. Regarding Barenboim’s tempo selections here, his overall timing of 74:09 makes this one of the faster Mahler Ninths. Giulini (DG), with the Chicago Symphony from 1976, was at the other extreme, coming in at just under 88:00, while Bruno Walter (Dutton Laboratories) and the Vienna Philharmonic, from 1938, clocked in at a fleet 69:42! Walter, who premiered the work in 1912, would record it again, in 1961 (the first stereo version), for Columbia (now on Sony), and offer more mainstream tempos. A symphony that can vary in length nearly twenty minutes from one convincing performance to another, must offer many interpretive vantage points to conductor and orchestra. Indeed.

Some conductors wallow in the work’s tragedy and gloom, while others are less sentimental and plumb the music more vigorously for its dark anguish, grotesqueries, sense of ineluctable tragedy, and its off-kilter, ominous rhythms—the opening rhythmic motto is said to be the sick composer’s arrhythmic heartbeat. Barenboim is in the latter camp, pointing up all sorts of detail throughout the symphony and punctuating phrases with instrumental playing that often seems to jump right out at you. Right after the opening motto is played in the first movement, the harp and muted horn come in with an emphatic ghostliness that rouses the ear. In later passages the bass clarinet often seems to growl, whether in the underpinning or in the foreground. The playing is typically not as gentle here as it is in many other Mahler Ninths, though the first movement still effectively conveys that sense of farewell and of fate lurking around the corner. Most importantly, the music does not drag or turn static, as can happen in the hands of lesser conductors, especially in the closing pages.

The two middle movements are splendidly realized, again with a sense of vigor, but now with more color and bite. The playing is very spirited and there are many moments of joy here, but joy mixed with acid and regret. The finale is gripping in its life-and-death struggle, the strings searing in their intensity, but turning gentle and submissive in the closing pages. This is one of the loveliest and saddest Mahler Ninth Adagios you’re likely to encounter. The Staatskapelle Berlin perform magnificently here and throughout the whole symphony. Barenboim, incidentally, has been their music director since 1992 and Conductor-for-Life since 2000.

Overall, this is a splendid performance of this complex symphony. The camera-work throughout this video is excellent too, giving you plenty of detailed shots of solo instrumentalists and instrumental sections, always presented with a knowing sense of what’s happening in the score. There is also a bonus track on which Barenboim and Pierre Boulez discuss Mahler. This release is part of a Mahler project by C Major, in which the two conductors will record all the symphonies in a shared cycle, with Barenboim apparently doing the instrumental-only symphonies.

For DVD this Barenboim performance is probably a safe bet considering that Abbado’s orchestra is the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, a very fine ensemble to be sure, but not quite at the top-tier level. The Barenboim competes well with even the best versions on CD and is thus a most worthwhile acquisition, probably an essential one for Mahler mavens.

Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, March 2011

The last completed symphony by Mahler required repeated listening on my part before I came to fully understand and appreciate it. It is a difficult, emotional, complex work. Mahler delayed composing it, because he felt as though there some superstition because the #9 was Beethoven’s final work.

At the time of the creation of this work, Mahler had already lost his dear young daughter, who died of Diphtheria. He was also diagnosed with a serious Heart ailment, and he knew that his remaining time was short. Much of the world he had lived in is reflected in this piece. The final Adagio is a heart-breaking conclusion, as it were, not only to the symphony, but also to Gustav Mahler’s life. After spending a few years in New York, he returned to Vienna in 1911 and he died there.

The performance of this work by the Staadskapelle Berlin, as conducted by Daniel Barenboim is really excellent. The video shows very clearly how completely ready the performers are with this work. Their attention is strongly focused on Barenboim, and even in sections of players numbering, say, 28 violins, one cannot see even one player who is not giving her/his all to make this performance a total success.

There is also a bonus track where Barenboim and Pierre Boulez talk about their joint Mahler Project, in which they performed all of Mahler’s symphonies.

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