Dudamel Takes On Mahler’s Ninth

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This is a strong performance. Even though initially Gustavo Dudamel’s rather generalized conducting offers nothing new, halfway through the first movement his inspiration kicks in, and he leads an emotionally charged build-up to the tremendous climax (let down by a barely audible tam-tam crash) and the desolation left in its wake. The Los Angeles Philharmonic plays wonderfully, with virtuosity from all sections. However, the horns don’t sufficiently project—it’s hard to tell whether they are underplayed or injudiciously balanced (no such problem for the rest of the brass).

Quick-ish tempos make the second movement (Ländler) a buoyant, dancing affair, especially the dizzying waltz sequence toward the end. Dudamel likewise leads a particularly brisk and biting Rondo-Burleske (the Los Angeles wind players really shine here), with an exceptionally exciting coda. Here again, though, the distant horns are a problem as they are crucial to Mahler’s brilliant parody of Johann Strauss’ Radeztky March.

In the Finale Dudamel finds the near-ideal adagio tempo to express the music’s profundity in the main theme while keeping the energy flowing–then he makes the mistake of being too monolithic in the second subject—the “Eastern music” (as Leonard Bernstein put it)—which at a quicker pace sounds more authentic, and provides more contrast. Still, the Los Angeles strings make a beautiful sound throughout, certainly in the great climax, but even more so in the almost painfully quiet ending.

This is the best of Dudamel’s three (so far) Mahler recordings, and it gives evidence of his continuing growth as an artist. The live recording is mostly well balanced (save for the horns), though a touch dry. While it may not rank with the best, its high points are memorable and there’s no questioning Dudamel’s conviction.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bernstein (DG); Pesek (Virgin); Gielen (Hänssler Classic)


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