Chailly Mahler 9th

The new Riccardo Chailly/Concertgebouw Mahler Ninth from Decca just might be the best-sounding recording ever made of a Mahler symphony. And as a performance it moves straight to the top of the class.

I am in awe of this powerful, moving, impeccably prepared, beautifully crafted performance of Mahler's last completed symphony, and of the magnificent, state-of-the-art sound Decca has provided for it. Chailly's tempos all work; his performance is profound and utterly convincing. The Concertgebouw has Mahler in its bones, and its committed playing and sumptuous sonority are all that could be desired. And Decca's engineers have captured every nuance with unrivaled immediacy, clarity, richness, and impact, revealing countless felicitous details, as well as exceptionally wide frequency range and dynamic range. Soft passages have beguiling delicacy; climaxes have potent bass and gut-wrenching power. The grand, heaven-storming scale of the reading is fully conveyed; what we hear here can stand as a model of how to record a Mahler symphony. This recording marks the triumphant conclusion of Chailly's distinguished Concertgebouw Mahler cycle for Decca. It was made in the Concertgebouw Great Hall, famed for its superb acoustics, in June 2004, in conjunction with Chailly's farewell concert as principal conductor of the orchestra (but it is not a live recording).

I've been a Mahler buff for 40 years and have many recordings of his symphonies, including half a dozen Mahler Ninths. But I've never heard a more eloquent Ninth than this one, and I've never heard one in which every thread of the complex orchestration is so clearly revealed. If I could keep only one Mahler Ninth, this would be the one. In addition to Chailly and the Concertgebouw, Decca engineers Jonathan Stokes and Philip Siney deserve to take a bow. Anyone who loves Mahler, anyone fond of the Ninth, anyone curious about how good a recent digital recording of a Mahler symphony can be, ought to hear this recording.

Have any of you guys listened to this one? What did you think? Also, my comments apply to the standard redbook CD version, but there is also a (separate) SACD version. Anyone heard that one?
Great sound yes if that is your priority, but performance too slow for my taste, same comments apply to new Tilson Thomas 9th, both clock in at almost 90 minutes!

I much prefer the faster more dramatic 9ths by Ancerl, Kondrashin, or live Bernstein/BPO myself.
One of nine isn't bad, in Mahler. I was surprised and like it a lot more than I thought I would and the recording is excellent. I have his others as well but they won't get much replay.
I agree with Megasam regarding the live 1979 Bernstein/BPO performance, warts and all it is my fav. If I could only have one 9th it would be this one.

Interesting and informative review, thank you. The Ninth Mahler has brought out the best of many conductors. I can think of the “live” Karajan, Abbado’s most recent, Barbirolli (all three conductors with the Berlin Philharmonic), like-him-or-leave him (I like), Bernstein’s recordings have to be dealt with, among many other moving and interesting ones in my library. By the way, Seiji Ozawa also chose the Mahler 9th for his farewell concerts with the Boston Symphony. (It would have been appropriate if James Levine had programmed the “Resurrection” Symphony for the start of his tenure there.)

I wish I could say I’ll be ordering Chailly’s 9th soon but I can’t. I have owned his Mahler 2, 3 (on SACD) and No. 8 and was disappointed and bored with the performances. The sound didn’t make me jump up and down either. If I am in the mood for good stick technique and dissection in Mahler, I can always reach for my Boulez, he has the sharpest blade of all (although the man’s interpretations of Ravel and Debussy–not to mention his own original music–are extremely interesting). Also would like to share your enthusiasm for Mr. Chailly’s Concertgebouw stint, but except for the truly phenomenal, Varèse “Complete Works,” the “Lyric Symphony” of Zemlinsky and Messiaen’s “Turangalila,” I would describe most of his recordings with that great orchestra–of the standard repertoire–as possessing (in a quote from a review of another artist by the late N.Y. Times critic, Harold C. Schonberg) “the diligence of a butler polishing the silver.” But then, we all hear things diffirently and have different expectations.

His earlier recordings with the RSO Berlin of some major works by Zemlinsky (in particular, “The Mermaid”) and the Schönberg “Gurrelieder,” were revelatory performances and excellent recordings. There are also two recordings of some fringe Shostakovich (with Concertgebouw) which are also quite good. I have always felt Chailly’s (and Ozawa”s) heart was firmly planted in contemporary music where I hear real energy and passion in his interpretations. I hope Decca will support more recordings by him of less well-known repertoire in the future.
Enjoyed your review very much. I'm a recent convert to Mahler - so I'm a tableau rasa here, free to sample and taste the full range of offerings. I'll most likely try out Chailly's 9th as soundstage in getting to hear all the nuances is important for me especially as an aid in learning the music. Though I'll probably hunt down Bernstein's, as well. I absolutely love Lenny, warts and all. And he seems to have had a particular soft spot for Mahler.
Forgive my ignorance, but are these Decca recordings CD?
Yesterday, I snagged two pristine vinyl sets of Mahler's 8th and 9th from our Re-Use center for a buck apiece.
The 9th is by the LSO under Ludwig. For those timing their Mahler this one comes in at 80:04. The Los Angeles Everest recording, however, is not all that great. A good part of the bass section seems to have fallen through a trap door in the soundstage.
The Chicago Symphony Orch. under Solti's baton for the 8th is a whole 'nother story. A London ffrr double LP set that certainly seems to deliver the slam of this "Symphony of a Thousand" at least, to this uninitiated ear.
Chailly has always been to clinical a conductor. Many of his recordings are technically and sonically perfect, but there is no, for me anyway, feeling in a great deal of his recordings. I have several of his Bruckner Recordings( 2, 7, & 8 ) and I like them. However, they would not rank as my all time favorites. So to, his Mahler, technically brilliant, but I am not taken to the heights like I am with Karajan( BPO-DG) Abbado( BPO-DG ) Barbirolli ( BPO-EMI )Walter ( VPO-Dutton ) and Bernstein ( NYPO-SONY ). SO I guess I am in the Vvrinc camp on this one, but that was a nice review TDAVE.
Happy Listening,
Hi JHWalker:

Are the Deutsche Grammophon recodings that you mentioned above, LP or CD?
If they are CD, are the any better sounding than the vinyl DGs?
Bear with me, while I try to straddle the fence here on the issue of sound versus performance.
I pass up DG labels all the time, no matter what the performance because their LP sound is so tepid.
Forgive me, if this seems like I'm picking a scrap, but if I'm told that I will be allowed into a concert hall's hallway (I know this exagerates a bit) to listen to a to-die-for maestro's performance, I'll take a pass.
Certainly, with the great number of commendable Mahler performances and the several excellent labels to choose from, we can have our cake and eat it too.
Of course, this may be just from my perspective in vinlyland where the plethora of choices seem to fall out of a cornicopia.
- Mario
On the vexed subject of DG's sound quality, I found their orchestral sound mediocre for years, but with the adoption of their then-new 4D recording process/technology in 1992, DG's orchestral sound got a whole lot better. The sound on most of the Boulez Mahler recordings, and the other fine Boulez recordings on DG, is for the most part very good indeed (if not quite up to the standard of the best Decca/London orchestral sound, in my opinion). Boulez's DG recordings have been made with the Chicago, Cleveland, Berlin Philharmonic, and Vienna Philharmonic (who else gets to record with those four great orchestras?). I've generally found the best sound comes from the Chicago and Cleveland venues. His DG recordings of Bartok, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, and even Berlioz (and Mahler) are unfailingly compelling and insightful readings that have much to recommend them; I wouldn't be without them (even though his Mahler won't be everyone's cup of tea). Obviously I'm talking about CDs here.
FWIW on the subject of DG sonics on LP or CD, I have far more objections to the recording when the performance is by Von Karajan, especially on CD, but some of my LP's from the 70's by VK are as bright and glassy as latter CD's. I think he did a lot of fiddling in the recording process as well. Not my fav sonically dispite some of the great Mahler reviews he got for #5, #6 & #9. As Texasdave points out Boulez's recordings on DG are much better, especially his Debussy which I think is pre-eminent performance wise as well.

Mario b, That Solti 8th is one of the great ones. This is also on a new "Legends" Decca CD - the transfer went very well. If you like 'dramatic' Mahler, try some of Solti's other performances. Lots of folks don't care that much for him, but the performances are rarely ever boring and the sound is usually quite good. Try his #1 with the CSO.

During the analog recording era, DGG orchestra recordings were, as you point out, a very miss and miss affair, particularly after about 1971. The orchestral recordings from the 1960s and earlier are often quite good. The difference was the move by DGG engineers into vastly over-miked territory after the 1960s.

On the other hand, DGG recordings of chamber and small ensemble music from the analog era are often extremely well recorded and rarely seemed suffered from the multi-miked malaise. I do not pass these up. Examples of well engineered DGG recordings from the analog recording era include:

Shostakovich, Sym 10, Karajan/BerlinPO, 139020
...(NOT the later mess on 2532030)
Beethoven, Pf Conc 1, Leitner/BerlinPO, Kempff, 138774
Tchaikovsky, Sym 5, Mravinsky/LeningradPO, 138658

Stravinsky, Octet for Wind Instruments, Boston Symphony Players, 2530 551
Stravinsky, Dumbarton Oaks, Boulez/Ensemble Intercontemporain, 2531378
Stravinsky, L'Histoire du Soldat, Boston Symphony Players, 2530609
Beethoven, Pf Trio in B, op97 (Archduke), Kempff -pf, Szeryng -vn, Fournier -vc, 2530147
Zemlinsky, Str Qt 2, LaSalle Qt, 2530982

All of my listening is to the LP versions, so I can't speak to the quality of any CD transfers for any of these. But the recording quality on the master tape is certainly evident.
Of all the Mahler synfonies the 9º is my favorite.
Chailly performance is good. No more no less, and that isn't enough for me and for Mahler. It's not just a matter of the tempi used, the climaxes in the first movement aren't there. Soundwise the recording is spectecular, but we are talking of the Concertgebouw Hall, wich has one of the best acoustics in the world.
Like others have writen here, i much prefer the Bernstein and Abbado last recording, although the sound is not up with the performance.
I was referring to CD issues not LP. I totally agree with what others have said about sound quality among various labels. I agree with TDAVE about DG sonics. I much prefer many of their analog CD recordings to their Digital ones, but I agree that the DG 4D process is a step in the right direction. Others mention recording venues which play a vital role in the sound. Venues like the Concertgebouw Hall and the Sofiensaal in Vienna have phenominal sound. I would nominate the Decca Legends CD issue of Bruckner's 4th with Bohm/VPO as one of the all time great performances in both sound and performance. In many cases, I find a performance is so good it tends to out weigh any sonic limitations, and sometimes the reverse is true in that the sound is so good it out weighs any limitations in performance.
Happy Listening,
I'd recommend the Solti CSO recording as a comparison. It would definitely give you two very different looks at this work.

While my favorites for Mahler 9 go with the majority here (Bernstein/Berlin, Abbado/Berlin, Karajan/Berlin"live"), I think a word should also be put in for Giulini/Chicago, which has some sonic limitations, but has a wonderful flow with great intensity.
I've been partial to the Zander reading on Telarc, which has always left me holding my breath at the end. A different view, but a fine one. The Bernstein as well.