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Briefly Noted: Blomstedt's Mahler 9

available at Amazon
G. Mahler, Symphony No. 9, Bamberger Symphoniker, H. Blomstedt

(released on June 21, 2019)
Accentus Music ACC-30477 | 83'28"
Herbert Blomstedt, who will turn 92 next month, remains not only active but supremely accomplished on the podium. He now serves as Honorary Conductor for a number of ensembles, including the Bamberg Symphony, with whom he led this glowing live performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony in June 2018. (The sound engineering leaves something to be desired, with some awkward joining between sections.) The last symphony Mahler published before his untimely death, it is often seen as the composer's reluctant eyeing of death. In a dark coincidence, for example, it will be the last work Michael Tilson Thomas (at 74, a young whippersnapper) conducts next weekend, before he takes a leave of absence to undergo heart surgery.

The Ländler seems rather genteel in Blomstedt's hands, a little pokey in tempo, perhaps a different way of understanding the "ungainly" and "course" markings that Mahler indicated. The third movement is appropriately brash, but again more polished than rough around the edges. The fourth movement misses the glimpse of the infinite it can afford, as Blomstedt could have drawn out its effusive lines even longer, but the chamber music moments of grouped solos put the Bamberg musicians in beautiful spotlights. Most effective is Blomstedt's first movement, an expansive, elegant rendering of the layers of appoggiaturas leaning on one another in row after row. The reluctant impartial quotations of the "Lebewohl" motif from Beethoven's piano sonata "Les Adieux" pile up beautifully.

Marin Alsop takes another crack at this elegiac work tonight at Strathmore and Sunday afternoon at the Meyerhoff, even as the identity of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as a full-year major orchestra continues to unravel.

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