Mahler Symphony No 9 – Karajan
Choice between this remastered Karajan classic and the analogue studio recording he made some months previously is by no means easy. Both versions won
Gramophone Awards in their day, but, whereas the low-profile, low-price DG Double reissue of the analogue LPs listed above) finds room for Christa Ludwig’s magisterial Kindertotenlieder and Ruckert-Lieder from the mid 1970s, this live account preserves the look and price bracket of the original package. There is no extra music. Karajan’s 1982 performance remains a remarkable one, the thrills and spills of the (subsequently unearthed) Bernstein concert relay of 1979 replaced by a commitment to lucidity of sound and certainty of line. In his original review, RO cited approvingly some words from Schoenberg’s Style and Idea: (Faber: 1975): “this symphony is no longer couched in the personal tone. It consists, so to speak, of objective, almost passionless statements of a beauty which becomes perceptible only to one who can dispense with animal warmth and feels at home in spiritual coolness.” If this sounds like a gloss on an unattractively marmoreal performance, there is nothing dispassionate about the way the Berlin Philharmonic tear into the Rondo-Burleske, the agogic touches of the analogue version ironed out without loss of intensity. True, Karajan does not seek to emulate the passionate immediacy of a Barbirolli or Bernstein, but in his broadly conceived, gloriously played Adagio the sepulchral hush is for once as memorable as the eruptive climax. The finesse of the playing is of course unmatched.
For this Karajan Gold reissue, the tapes have been picked over in order to open up the sound and do something about the early-digital edginess of the strings. There is still some occlusion at climactic points; and if those strings now seem more ‘plasticky’ than fierce, it is impossible to say whether the conductor would have approved.'