Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 15-19 September 2008 in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg
Reviewed by: Andrew Achenbach
Reviewed: September 2009
CD No: TUDOR 7162
Duration: 83 minutes
The Bambergers continue to flourish under the stewardship of Jonathan Nott, as this utterly engrossing, big-hearted Mahler 9 readily attests. Not only is the painstaking preparation evident in every bar, Nott’s enviably lucid, scrupulously observant and pungently characterised interpretation seems to gain in stature on each new hearing – definitely a good sign!
Nott plots a formidably sure-footed course through the towering first movement; I like the absorbing sense of organic growth, shrewdly graded dynamics and acute awareness of the bigger scheme – all achieved without any sacrifice in terms of edge-of-seat drama or emotional force (witness those stentorian trombones and explosive timpani from 19’35”). As ever, Nott’s adherence to an ‘old-school’ orchestral layout is entirely beneficial (time and again, the antiphonally placed first and second violins impart an added grit to Mahler’s riveting contrapuntal workings), and he has a flair for unearthing detail in a way which consistently ignites the imagination.
In the second movement you’ll encounter some irresistibly ‘vocal’ winds (plenty of tangy local colour here), and Nott gauges the music’s mounting instability with genuine mastery as the initially gawky and playful mood turns grotesque, macabre and ultimately downright nasty. He brings a comparable rigour and perception to the ‘Rondo-Burleske’, whose malevolent coda he whips into quite a frenzy. Underpinning everything, though, the keen sense of architecture remains: there’s never a whiff of flashy showmanship, and Mahler’s muscular fugato passages have an exhilarating grip – the counterpoint really does leap off the page.
The finale is most moving in its unexaggerated intensity and firm control, the Bamberg strings responding with an honesty and tireless application that more than compensate for any last missing ounce of sumptuous tone by the side of the ‘big boys’ in Berlin, Vienna or Amsterdam. During the transcendent coda you can intermittently hear birds twittering in the rafters of the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal (the effect is oddly touching – I think the composer might even have approved). Otherwise, the production-values in this joint venture between Tudor and Bavarian Radio leave no cause for complaint.
This is a most impressive release: another feather in the cap of this personable and stimulating partnership. The two SACDs retail for the price of one.