CD REVIEW CLASSICAL
"Mahler: Symphony No. 9," Berlin Philharmonic,
conducted by Simon Rattle (EMI Classics)
To those who enjoyed Simon Rattle's Mahler performances with the Berlin Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in November more than I did -- and that seemed to include almost everyone -- I commend this performance. Recorded live in Berlin just weeks before, it is close kin to the Ninth heard at Carnegie.
You're welcome to it, but I'll stick to the 1982 live recording Herbert von Karajan made of the work with the Berlin Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon, which was also replicated at Carnegie Hall. That performance haunts the memory in the best sense, and the recording, one of his greatest, is worth recalling in this Karajan centennial year.
Doing so after rehearing the Rattle interpretation brings to mind Karajan's advice to budding maestros to the effect that conducting an orchestra is like riding a horse. The horse has to be persuaded to carry the rider over the fence; the rider can't carry the horse.
And that is what Rattle seems to be trying to do here. From the sentimentally held opening note of the first movement's principal theme, he seems to feel the need to control the orchestra minutely rather than see what he might coax out of its own volition. He makes his presence felt constantly, churning and massaging the music. At times he seems intent on heaving the symphony out of the ground by its roots. The herky-jerkiness that results is in contrast to the organic growth of the Karajan version of the first movement and of the work as a whole.
This is not meant as a paean to Karajan, who had his faults as a person and as a musician. Nor is it meant to demean Rattle, who has brought admirable new perspectives and activities to the orchestra, which were also on display at Carnegie. But performances such as this do little to enhance the Berlin Philharmonic's standing as a great Mahler orchestra.
JAMES R. OESTREICH,
NEW YORK TIMES