Mahler - Symphony No 9. Kindertotenlieder. Rückert-Lieder
Christa Ludwig mez Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan
DG 453 040-2GTA2 Buy now
(132’ · ADD)
Mahler’s Ninth is a death-haunted work but is filled, as Bruno Walter remarked, ‘with a sanctified feeling of departure’. Rarely has this symphony been shaped with such understanding and played with such selfless virtuosity as it was by Karajan and the BPO.
For this reissue the tapes have been picked over to open up the sound and do something about the early digital edginess of the strings. There’s still some occlusion at climaxes; and if those strings now seem more plasticky than fierce, it’s impossible to say whether the conductor would have approved. Karajan came late to Mahler and yet, until the release of his rather more fiercely recorded 1982 concert relay (below), he seemed content to regard this earlier studio performance as perhaps his finest achievement on disc.
The attraction is greatly enhanced by Christa Ludwig’s carefully considered Mahler performances of the mid-1970s. The voice may not be as fresh as it was when she recorded the songs in the late 1950s but there are few readings of comparable nobility. She articulates the text with unrivalled clarity, and ‘In diesem Wetter’ at least is positively operatic. How much of the grand scale should be attributed to Karajan? It’s difficult to say; the voice is sometimes strained by the tempi. This collection isn’t to be missed.