- Symphony No. 9 in D major
Two of the most famous recordings of Mahler's Ninth Symphony were made live in Berlin: the first conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1979, the other by Herbert von Karajan just three years later. It is difficult to imagine more divergent interpretations -- Bernstein's angst-ridden ferocity and Karajan's unsentimental incandescence. Now, here is a third concert version featuring the awesome Berlin orchestra, and it combines some of the best qualities of its illustrious predecessors. Grittier than Karajan's though less emotionally extravagant than Bernstein's, Claudio Abbado's version is still as gut-wrenching as it should be, yet there is immense dignity, too. Certainly the orchestra has grown into the work over the years, and their sound is intensely vibrant and richly nuanced. The microphone placement seems close -- perhaps to counteract audience noise in the very quiet passages at the work's end -- but that sense of immediacy is thrilling in the knotty counterpoint of the two inner movements. And those final pages are breathtaking as the glorious Berlin strings whittle their plush sound down to a dying breath. One might question DG's decision to include the applause at the end, but hearing 40 seconds of stunned silence before the audience was able to put their hands together is actually quite moving and adds to the experience.