Mahler 9 from Budapest

Mahler 9 from Budapest

This is Classical Explorer’s fourth post featuring the excellent Concerto Budapest: we kicked off with a concert report from Guildford, before looking at a couple of discs: Shostakovich Symphonies Nos. 5 & 9, and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony.

Both of those discs were characterised by phenomenal sound quality (“SACD TACET real Surround Sound”), as is this one.It is the sheer translucency of sound, both in performance and recording that defines Keller’s first movement. If these are not the most searing of climaxes in this opening section of the symphony, this is oe of the most disturbing first movement's out there. There is an underlying sense of disquiet thatsuffuses every note, every gesture. The recording can sustain the charged silences and near-silences. The first movement also hints at Concerto Budapest’s greatest asset, their strings, who will come into their own in the finale. Perhaps the acidic tune of Mahler”s woodwind writing in the first movement does not quite one across as strongly as some, but counteracting that are high violins that really can deal with Mahler’s extreme demands:

When it comes to the second movement, the “Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers,” Concerto Budapest”s chamber-like approach pays many dividends. I do miss Bruno Walter’s sense of a gritty, earthy peasant dance here, though (from 24"50 in this YouTube video). Here's Keller:

One can however revel in some of the lovely woodwind contributions, particularly the Principal Oboe of Concerto Budapest. The third movement presents some complex writing from Mahler, and Keller is expert at decoding the various strands. Rhythmically, everything is in perfect order, and again woodwind shine (this time via some wonderfully echt-Mahlerian clarinet contributions) - as well as a superb trumpeter. With his X-Ray approach, Keller almost reminds me of Sinopoli and that conductor”s deconstructionist ideals (link to a YouTube of Sinopoli”s DG recording of the Ninth with the Philharmonia Orchestra):

... and so to the great finale. It would take a truly great performance to make me forget Leonard Benstein in this piece with the Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Barbican, one of the finest performances of anything I have every experienced. Keller and his Budapest players offer a finely individual reading, most impressive in the quieter moments where string control is of jaw-dropping quality. Keller's pacing is well thought-through, and it is clear his superb strings give their all:

A fascinating Mahler 9, then. Certainly not one that will topple the Abbado/Lucerne performance in my affections (see Classical Explorer post), from which one can learn much.

You can purchase this SACD via Amazon at this link.