Riccardo Chailly masters Mahler

The great Italian conductor leads Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra through Mahler's notoriously difficult final symphony.

Composer: Mahler
Repertoire: 9th Symphony
Artists: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: Decca 475 6191

Mahler’s final completed symphony provides both a fitting conclusion to Chailly’s highly acclaimed cycle and a valediction after his decade and a half at the helm of the magnificent Concertgebouw Orchestra. It was the last work Chailly conducted as the orchestra’s music director, and he made this disc directly after that final concert. The work’s four movements are an epic 90 minutes of tumultuous emotions dominated by the motif of Death (by the time Mahler began composing the work in 1909 he knew that he had only a short time to live). The two outer movements, each lasting roughly half an hour, are concerned with calm resignation and the agony  of farewell; the two central movements, a gruesome Scherzo and a dissonant ‘Rondo-Burleske’, are  ruled by the demonic element of Death.

The Ninth is generally reckoned to be the most difficult of all Mahler’s symphonies to bring off, equally demanding for the performers and for the listener, and Chailly’s realisation is as gripping as it is disturbing. The balance and clarity of orchestral detail, from the frenzy of  the Rondo to the almost imperceptible closing bars  of the final Adagio, is brilliantly captured. All in all, a superb release – marred only by the booklet, which  is printed backwards and upside down.