MAHLER Symphony No 9 (Harding)
The gently irregular pulse at the outset of this Andante comodo bodes well for a Ninth which doesn’t lean on biographical signifiers as markedly as vaunted recordings from years gone by: it’s the opening page of a symphony, not a diary. There’s no denying the harmonic agony and violent momentum Harding wrings from the subsequent D minor climaxes and implosions but he balances them persuasively in the context of countervailing D major episodes of genuine aspiration and tenderness, so that the movement’s hard-won point of repose feels less than usually provisional.
So it’s the kind of account that leaves the parodic and Expressionist elements of Mahler’s vocabulary to speak for themselves. In the Ländler they’re leavened by idiomatic touches of Schubertian Gemütlichkeit, and resilient if two-faced Waltz-King humour from the clarinets at the start of the Rondo-Burleske (the Viennese didn’t need Ravel; they could always parody themselves). In the Ninth no less than any other symphony Mahler looked back at least as often as forwards: Harding is unfailingly sensitive to the work’s place in time.
Some readers may remember the lingering, at times otherworldly performances of the Ninth which Harding gave with the Dresden Staatskapelle (broadcast and on tour) a little over a decade ago. They will find the present performance and its recording no less attentive but considerably less extreme, more of a piece with the thrilling, score-based sweep of a Second given by these forces at the BBC Proms in 2015. This is especially true of a nobly sung final Adagio distinguished by sweetly modulated strings and with intimations of extinction kept in reserve for the final page.