Mahler's Ode To Life Lacks Heart

Despite their consider talents, the LSO under Valery Gergiev don't get the emotional centre of Mahler's Symphony No.9

Composer: Mahler
Repertoire: Symphony No.9
Artists: London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: LSO LIVE LSO0668

The Music: Mahler composed his last completed symphony when he knew he was ill with heart trouble but, after the shock of learning this, was now in love with life all over again. It’s all there in the music: death-absorbed musings, bitter irony, and ecstatic warmth.

The Performance: This is one of those strange performances whose credentials seriously impress, and yet something is missing where it matters. The LSO’s lustrous, ultra-secure playing reaches astonishing virtuoso heights in the ‘Rondo Burleske’ Scherzo. And Gergiev unfolds Mahler’s huge four-movement structure with masterly grip and command. But the music’s moods are not truly engaged with – neither the first movement’s extremes of tenderness and desperation, nor the middle movements’ grotesqueness, nor (really) the finale’s poignant sense of farewell.

The Verdict: If you like your Mahler to be a sumptuous feast of sound, look no further. If you want to be taken to the music’s expressive heart, explore elsewhere.

Want More? Mahler’s haunting symphonic song-cycle Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) was composed just before the Ninth Symphony. Try Kathleen Ferrier’s unforgettable 1952 recording, conducted by Bruno Walter (Naxos 8.110871).