Notes and Editorial Reviews
Christoph von Dohnanyi’s reputation for brisk, objectified Mahler is not borne out by this unexpectedly long-breathed and evidently long-pondered reading. The first movement may not offer the white-hot commitment of Sir Simon Rattle, but neither is it anything like as disengaged as Pierre Boulez’s controversial account. Like Boulez, Dohnanyi gives himself plenty of space to articulate the structure and clarify detail, presenting the main ideas with the lyricism (and some of the glacial calm) of Herbert von Karajan’s famous recording. At 11'21'' (the Mit Wut section at fig. 9), cellos and basses don’t come in with sufficient resolution. And I did not always care for the penetrating quality of the first trumpet on what is a vivid but not
always entirely natural-sounding sound stage. (Despite what sounds like a loud cough 2'17'' into the finale, there is no indication that the recording was taped live.) On the other hand, the morendo coda is exquisitely done, and, if the recapitulation disappoints – the expression oddly casual as though the maelstrom of the previous 20 minutes counted for not very much – Dohnanyi is only taking the marking literally: this is ‘like the beginning’.
The second movement is more characterful than you might expect, its Landler theme trippingly light at the outset, the waltz more heftily Teutonic (Tempo II). The conductor’s relatively straight approach suits the Rondo-Burleske and the more lyrical middle section has greater emotive power than some recent interpreters have allowed. The Adagio receives a fine, mainstream performance that really sings. Which is not to say that we get anything like Bernstein’s explicitly weeping strings at the start, let alone Benjamin Zander’s hyped-up expressivity. Throughout, I was impressed by the certainty of the articulation and the audibility of counter-melodies even if there is now and again a certain dispassionateness which risks making the argument seem a bit too effortless. The ‘gripping, continuous narrative’ SJ missed in the Boulez is certainly present.
The Hartmann coupling is both unexpected and welcome; it has been sitting in Decca’s vaults for so long that EMI has recorded and released a rival version in the interim as part of its ongoing cycle. The present account displays all Dohnanyi’s lucidity and high seriousness, although it is Metzmacher who offers the more virile characterization in a recording that has a wider dynamic range. No doubt the Bamberg saxophone sounds less beautiful than its Cleveland counterpart, and yet Hartmann’s folk-like material is the more compelling for some extra give and take in the phrasing. The Bamberg cymbals crash with more vulgar abandon too.
Quibbling apart, Dohnanyi deserves credit for such adventurous programming and many readers will be intrigued to come across a neglected figure of the post-Mahlerian generation who wears his musical influences with perverse pride – I counted Reger, Berg, Hindemith, Stravinsky (The Rite) and the Bartok of Bluebeard’s Castle. Decca’s packaging is handsome, but why does it allow just one track per movement in the main work? The older DG recordings offered more comprehensive, ‘analytical’ access.
-- Gramophone [6/1999]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9 in D major by Gustav Mahler
Christoph von Dohnányi
Written: 1908-1909; Austria
Date of Recording: 05/1997
Venue: Masonic Auditorium, Cleveland, Ohio
Length: 84 Minutes 37 Secs.
Symphony no 2 "Adagio" by Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Christoph von Dohnányi
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1946; Germany
Date of Recording: 02/1994
Venue: Severance Hall, Cleveland, Ohio
Length: 15 Minutes 20 Secs.
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