Blomstedt’s Mahler 9: Irreproachable Integrity (but a touch cool)

Review by: David Hurwitz

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Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

It may be a good thing or a bad thing that you can predict in advance what you’re likely to hear in a Blomstedt performance: irreproachable musical integrity, expressive directness, a careful attention to balance, structure and phrasing–good qualities all. What you will not find is that white heat of emotional intensity that characterizes the most idiomatic Mahler interpretations, and this Ninth offers a case in point. The first movement begins swiftly, and continues with minimal tempo contrast between sections, but Blomstedt lets the orchestra play out at the climaxes and the result is still powerful, if not as gut-wrenching as it could be.

The second movement is magnificent. For once we really hear each statement of that demented waltz steadily accelerate, just as Mahler asks, and the Bamberg woodwinds do themselves proud. Unfortunately the Rondo: Burleske, again as you might expect, lacks the vicious edge that the music requires. It’s not a question of tempo. Both Ancerl and Klemperer demonstrated that the piece can snap and snarl as it must at a moderate speed. Rather, it just seems that Blomstedt’s temperament doesn’t allow him to plumb the depths that Mahler explores so graphically here. Ah, but then there’s the finale: transfiguring, transcendental–all of those “trans” words. If ever there was a portrait of “easeful death,” Blomstedt paints it here, in inexpressibly moving terms.

It’s not an ideal performance overall, perhaps, but it is a distinctive one in mostly positive ways. It also proves to be an important addition to the Blomstedt discography, an artist whose unassuming but musically exalted presence has graced our concert halls for something like seven decades. Beautiful, clear sonics and two discs for the price of one make this a release that most Mahlerians should hear.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Karajan II (DG); Ancerl (Supraphon); Chailly (Decca)


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