Notes and Editorial Reviews
Instinct and intellect combine perfectly in Jukka-Pekka Saraste’s perceptive reading
Mahler is all about weighing and balancing the extremes – heart and intellect, tempo and dynamics, tension and release – and Saraste’s judgement in such matters is sharp and instinctive. The combination of a forensic ear and a big heart is not just desirable but de rigueur in Mahler and, listening to Saraste lay down the uninhabitable opening measures of this impressive reading, my very first note was to register just how welcoming the second violins sounded as they tendered the hopeful first subject. My second concerned the hugely expressive cor anglais solo (just three notes) at last persuading the first violins to draw the
entire string section into this poignant song without words.
Saraste’s acute sense of the music’s flux throughout this first movement makes for a series of frenzied climaxes, the first opening a gaping wound in unison clarinets before stopped horns and reptilian bass clarinet lead us deeper into the unknown. Saraste creates great atmosphere in these “lost” moments, time and pulse suspended like an out-of-body experience. Impressive horn playing makes the open-to-stopped colour particularly unsettling and the balmy transition into the coda deeply reassuring. Nothing could be further removed from the unforgiving glare of Salonen’s recent account (Signum, 9/10). With Saraste there is always hope.
The inner movements kick in with a suitably lumpen Ländler, deliciously wonky horn trills suggesting the dodgy footwork of the uncouth putting on airs. The fast waltz abandons all pretence and draws us all in to an exhilarating knees-up. The Rondo-Burleske is exhilarating, too – biting and quick of reflex – but shows its teeth in the cruel E flat clarinet parody of the poignant middle section, foreshadowing as it does the great finale.
And it is here that Saraste and his excellent WDR Symphony Orchestra convey an almost startling defiance, with violins digging deep to convey a truly Bernsteinian full-throatedness. This burgeoning hymn has cantorial roots, make no mistake. But it’s the tension between defiance and resignation that really shows Saraste’s perception and understanding. Mahler’s life passes before him in aching slow motion – not literally, as with Bernstein, but through the delicate balance of what is outwardly said and inwardly felt.
-- Edward Seckerson, Gramophone
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 9 in D major by Gustav Mahler
West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1908-1909; Austria
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