A six-star performance, really
, February 13, 2002
Reviewer: Martien Philipse
from Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Mahler doesn't come any better than this. I have listened to this recording time and again in total awe. It is scrupulously meticulous in its attention to what the score says, and the results take your breath away. Take for instance the 'schattenhaft' episode in the first movement, where little trills on muted strings are being bounced back and fourth at pppp level. These players, under Zander's guidance, actually realize those four p's, truly differentiating them from ppp. These barely audible wisps of sound make you experience with shock what Mahler meant by 'shadowy', creating a spooky, oppressive hush that had me nailed to my seat. This reading is full of such insights. One other example are the final bars, where a clear sense of phrasing and articulation remains intact even though the music disintegrates before our ears. But the powerful and sarcastic moments are realized to full effect as well, and the performance never loses sight of the big picture. Its impact stays with you long after the music has stopped. The recording is warm, clear and spotless to match (none of the intrusive audience noises here that spoil the final moments of the performance by Bernstein and the Concertgebouw Orkest; I wouldn't be surprised if Zander's audience simply forgot to breathe).
This isn't only the finest Mahler Ninth ever to be put on record, I hardly hesitate to claim it is simply one of the greatest performances of all time of any piece of music. Meanwhile I can't wait to hear more Zander Mahlers!
I second the emotion
, September 23, 2001
Reviewer: richard mullany
from waynesville, north carolina United States
This review belongs below Bob Ziedlers essay because it simply says "amen" to his praises of this music and of the book by Lewis Thomas. I bought the book at it's publication because it has some of thbe most cogent reasoning about the Cold War, then at it's scary height. His words about the last movement of this symphony made me so sad that I had trouble seeing and swallowing. The feeling of shared understanding between two people, author and reader, often come as a shock to the reader; as if the author read your mind and found something there even though you hadn't been aware of it until you read his words. So it was with that little book of thoughtful essays. I still read it, still am moved by it and will forever carry one of his most profound thoughts, that one of the greatest mysteries of all is this; "Why do humans treat each other the way they do?". To those seeking sanctuary from the madness of the last weeks I urge the reading of this book, still in print, and this music of the most transcendant beauty in the midst of pain and suffering. We need to be reminded of our potential for being fully human even in the presence of loss. I sing the praises of Mr. Ziedlers analysis and of the aptness of his mention of Dr. Thomas' beautiful book.
Crystal clear interpretation
, July 18, 2001
Reviewer: Claus Koenig
from Herndon, VA USA
Lets not be deterred by the low price and simple cover, also don't be afraid of Zander, who is largely unknown. This interpretation steps away from romanticism into the realtiy of Mahler's style in his most important work. The harshness of the beginning (harp), the irregular heartbeat of the dying Mahler (Violins), the grotesque 3 movement in its insanity are not softened for accomodation of the listener. After all this fight to accept death and life are intriguing and disturbing at the same time. I listen over and over to Zanders interpretation. It has a very direct impact on me. The extra CD where Zander explains the music, gives further insight and will, so I hope, add more Mahler listeners to this wonderful world of music.
Over time, my thoughts have only been strengthened.
, April 14, 2001
Reviewer: Bob Zeidler
from Charlton, MA United States
This is such a remarkable performance that I find myself thinking, more than a year after first hearing and reviewing this performance, that a second opportunity to comment on it could be beneficial to Amazon members browsing this page.
Prior to the advent of the CD, I was (like many other Mahlerites, I am sure) a voracious Mahler collector, having complete, or nearly complete, or at least partial, traversals of his symphonies by the likes of Abravanel, Barbirolli, Bernstein, Haitink, Horenstein, Klemperer, Kubelik, Scherchen and Walter. This constituted a rather large collection of LP's; the space alone to simply store them became challenging. But it also afforded me an opportunity to assess different interpretational approaches, which, with this spectrum of conductors, was wide indeed. With the advent of the CD, there was a new challenge. Instead of having to find the space for many LP's, it became a matter of how to identify the one or two performances on CD that could endure on artistic (and, as well, technical) grounds. It was at this time (in early 1983) that Fanfare,a major journal for the review of serious music, became my principal guide for identifying where to start in this effort to "slim down" my Mahler library.
Fanfare recommendations led me to Bernstein's live 1985 Amsterdam Concertgebouw performance and Karajan's live 1982 Berlin Philharmonic performance. These CD's have served me well for many years. But matters are now dramatically changed, and, I think it safe to say, forever.
With Zander's performance, we know that we are in the presence of truly great music-making, and it is equally clear that his live audience recognizes this fact. One can start where one chooses in comparing Zander with Bernstein and Karajan. I choose to limit my comments to the final movement, for it is in this Adagio that I experience an ultimate truth for the first time.
All too often with Mahler, critics and reviewers tend to focus on comparative timings, totally missing the critical importance of dynamics and what is known as "the long arc", the phrasing of a Mahler movement which makes the bar lines disappear, to be replaced by a continuous thread of music. One Fanfare reviewer gets it right when he states that Zander, while two minutes shorter than Bernstein/Concertgebouw, is not in the slightest less rapt or intense.
Never has this been brought home more clearly to me in the Adagio than at the first entrance of the strings playing "ohne Ausdruck" (without expression), over the bassoon figure at 1:50, where the strings play so quietly that the utmost attention is demanded. I truly thought I knew this movement after having listened to quite probably a score of earlier recordings. But my heart almost stopped at 1:50, and I believe that I came close to listening to the remaining twenty-five minutes without taking a breath. I simply needed to suspend everything to give this playing the attention it demands. I listened to it several times over before concluding that I wanted to share my enthusiasm for this recording with others.
In preparation for writing this note, I did what I seldom do - but what any conscientious music reviewer must do - I listened in turn to Bernstein and Karajan and then Zander perform this staggering movement, each from start to finish, as objectively as I possibly could. At the end of this hour and a half, with Zander, it was clear to me that I at long last heard Mahler's intentions as he meant them to be. As realized by Zander (and no one else, although Bernstein comes the closest by far), this was truly Mahler's leave-taking, his valedictory. It has such a palpable finality, such a peaceful resignation and acceptance, that one can almost sense the precise moment at which the soul has departed from the body.
Zander's performance is so outstanding that it puts the various Cooke (and other) efforts at "completing" the 10th symphony in a totally new light. When I now listen to any of these 10th Symphony performing versions (and, to me, the Cooke version is the one which comes closest to capturing the spirit of "the Mahler that might have been"), it is with the sense that "the 10th may never have been meant to be" and that the 9th is his proper valedictory. At long last I (and I hope others) have the Mahler 9th for all time.
I thought I could write this note without listening to Zander's commentary, hoping that I could do justice using just my own words. But I cheated, and listened to his commentary on the final Adagio, and discovered in the process that his words are more eloquent, and more illuminating, than anything I could write. If you get this performance, you have the option of listening to either the music or the commentary first, but do take advantage of Zander's insight; you will not be disappointed.
Don't even think about the "three-for-one" pricing of this album. It would be a steal even if Telarc were to charge you the full list price for the 3 CD's. But it's nice that they didn't.
Zander's The Equal of Bernstein, Haitink, Karajan, Klemperer
, February 7, 2001
Reviewer: A music fan
from Burbank, CA USA
I can't add much to the eloquence of the other reviewers, either on historical or musical grounds, except to say that Zander's conception of the 1st and 4th movements are among the most searchingly thoughtful and heartfelt I have ever heard. (When you hear Zander's accompanying lecture disc, you will learn just how thoughtful and heartfelt he truly is.) This is a performance of mystery and power for the ages with an intimate, full-range recording to match.
From the opening harp arpeggio (much more forceful than usual) to the final Heaven-swept coda, Zander's Mahler sings to us with existential courage and visionary insight the hard news of the transitory nature of existence. The tempos are slow without dragging, thus allowing the listener to experience Mahler's melodies as heartbeats to breathe with, not mere downbeats galloping off into the distance. For instance, Zander wrings every metaphor of emotion out of the epiphanal 4th movement without Bernstein's heart-on-the-sleeve underlining (and, hey, I love Bernstein's heart-on-the-sleeve underlining!)
I can find no higher praise than to say that I wish Zander's Ninth had been the first version of this symphony I heard. (And I consider myself very fortunate to have heard Bernstein's breathtaking DG recording with the Concertgebouw as my first experience of the Ninth.)
If I could just point out one small, but noteworthy, example of Zander's meticulous performance... In the fourth movement, starting on measure 28, Zander has the pulsing violins (1st and 2nd violins split left and right, by the way) playing at the quietest hush I have ever heard in this movement. This uneasy quiet, though, has the affect of creating an even deeper dynamic tension as Mahler's counter melodies of dark truth unfold against this high-pitched, muted cry of anguish and dismay.
This economically priced CD is worth every penny. I can only hope that Zander will one day move on to the poetic densities of Symphonies 2 and 3. I'd love to hear take his place on these symphonies alongside the brilliant renditions of Rattle, Haitink, Bernstein, and Klemperer.
, December 10, 2000
Mahler's Ninth is very different from Beethoven's similarly final symphony. The two mark the optimistic incipit and pessimistic quietus of the Romantic century. Born in the moribund Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the verge of the deconstruction of Europe in World War I, Mahler's music is a meditation on death and chaos at the dawn of Modern harmonically rootless and dissonant music. There is no Song of Joy here; indeed, no singers.
Symphony 9 is a piece that often seems hardly alive, shot through with ominous undercurrents on the edge of audibility, and a bear to conduct. My overall impression is of a slow moving tapestry of orchestral sections, pulling against each other. Mahler designed it so, uniquely framing this very long composition with slow first and fourth movements. The second movement is a savage, profoundly unsettling, dance parody (in affect rather like Ravel's more transparent La Valse). The other "fast" movement is equally grotesque.
Listening to the 87 minutes of music requires the closest attention. Zander's spoken commentary, included on a bonus disc, shows why this is true. His spoken dissection, note by note, of the opening two pages of the score (facsimile included in the case) and more, is an absolute revelation for a layperson.
I found the performance superb, coherent, and overwhelming. Its demands on the memory means it could be difficult to keep the attention of a youngster. Not recommended for a newcomer to classical music, nor to someone feeling depressed. But it might drive your fondest enemy to despair.
Greatest Unique Interpretation of Mahler's 9th
, November 23, 2000
from Singapore, Singapore
This is a rather interesting interpretation of Mahler's 9th.
The first movement is a top notch performance, as good those by "Mahler conductors". However nothing that really unique here.
The 2nd mvmt is where things get interesting. Most "Mahler conductor's" 2nd mvmt have a crude feel to it to enhance the. Infact Zander himself stated in his lecture he wanted a "crude" feeling to the Landler. Ironically however Zander ends up enhancing the "rusticity" and the "clusiness" of the mvmt to the point which it sounds mechanical! Just listen to the opening ta-ta-ta-ta-da-dum , it sounds like a clock winding or some toy soldiers marching. Not necessarily a bad thing as it still sounds like parody which is what this mvmt is. Infact I personally liked it but a Mahler "purist" may not take kindly to that. The waltz was good too. It really had a feeling of a roller coaster ride gone horribly wrong.
Now the 3rd mvmt, also rather unique interpretation. Not only he slowed down the tempo but he really emphasized control in this movement. The end result is that it doesn't sound chaotic as those by "Mahler conductors". But the advantage of that is there is now an enhanced feel of misery, suffering and sadism. The last part of the movement, the dash to the end, was also breathtaking. So again all in all a good performance.
The 4th movement is where it really triumphs. Zander really took Mahler's indication "without expression" to the extreme. The opening of the mvmt really sounded like Mahler is extremely exhausted and about to die. But when it reached the climaxes, it really sounded dramatic because you get the feel that although Mahler is all exhausted, he shall continue going on with inhuman strength and burning determination. This is very unique because most other "mahler conductors" usually play this mvmt with more "expression" than Zander.(not saying they are bad interpretations. Just that they are different). Zander's ending, the quiet passages also sounded very ethereal compared to other recordings due to the extra "lack of expression".
The only gripe I have is that the recording is sub-par. Which is unusual because telarc cds usually sound crisp. But of course it still sounds better than most of the other great 9th performances which are recording between 1930-70s.
So all in all, a topnotch performance with an interesting interpretation. Mahler purists may complain but honestly I don't care. Good music is good music. Then again since Mahler isn't around to conduct anymore, how can one be sure those "mahler conductor"'s interpretations are the "correct" ones eh?
The Mahler Ninth for all time.
, March 10, 2000
Reviewer: Bob Zeidler
from Charlton, MA
Many years ago (in fact, in 1983, its year of initial publication), I was given as a gift a marvelous small book of essays by Lewis Thomas, surely one of the best chroniclers-if not the outright best-of the interrelationships of science, society and the human condition. The title of this masterpiece is "Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony"; it is available from Amazon.com, and I urge all readers of this review to not only acquire the album that is the subject of the review but Thomas' book as well. As you read on, the reasoning behind the double recommendation will become very clear.
Among all the great essays in this book, two speak directly to the effect this album has had on me, and, it may turn out, on Benjamin Zander as well.
There is an essay entitled The Attic of the Brain, which speaks directly to the need for people to carry around a large amount of information in their minds, lest they risk losing a critical piece of knowledge that they might require at a later date, much to their dismay. (The essay is, if you like, a cautionary tale about the risks of psychiatry, because of "total brain dumps" that might result from psychoanalysis.) What follows is a brief, but pivotal, quotation.
...But it is in our nature as human beings to clutter, and we hanker for places set aside, reserved for storage. We tend to accumulate and outgrow possessions at the same time, and it is an endlessly discomforting mental task to keep sorting out the ones to get rid of. We might, we think, remember them later and find a use for them, and if they are gone for good, off to the dump, this is a source of nervousness. I think it may be one of the reasons we drum our fingers so much these days...
The title (and final) essay is also a cautionary tale if you like. In it, Thomas describes how his listening to, and reading of, the final movement has been altered by the misuse of science. The following two brief quotations are all that are required for you, the reader of this review, to understand the direction in which I am heading.
...I cannot listen to Mahler's Ninth Symphony with anything like the old melancholy mixed with the high pleasure I used to take from this music. There was a time, not long ago, when what I heard, especially in the final movement, was an open acknowledgement of death and at the same time a quiet celebration of the tranquility connected to the process. I took this music as a metaphor for reassurance, confirming my own strong hunch that the dying of every living creature, the most natural of all experiences, has to be a peaceful experience. I rely on nature. The long passages on all the strings at the end, as close as music can come to expressing silence itself, I used to hear as Mahler's idea of leave-taking at its best. But always, I have heard this music as a solitary, private listener, thinking about death...
...There is a short passage near the very end of the Mahler in which the almost vanishing violins, all engaged in a sustained backward glance, are edged aside for a few bars by the cellos. Those lower notes pick up fragments from the first movement, as though prepared to begin everything all over again, and then the cellos subside and disappear, like an exhalation. I used to hear this as a wonderful few seconds of encouragement: we'll be back, we're still here, keep going, keep going...
I had, a few years back, misplaced this book. But all of these words by Thomas must have been somewhere in the attic of my brain when I first listened to Benjamin Zander's Mahler Ninth, and then came back in a rush as I struggled with trying to come up with some words to describe the effect this staggering performance had on me. I couldn't find better words than Thomas', and so I offer to all of you his own insight into the significance of this masterpiece. And, as I think about it, Benjamin Zander must surely have read this essay as well and kept its message in his own brain's attic. For he-and only he-gets Mahler's sense of leave-taking right.
In this humble writer's opinion, Benjamin Zander's Mahler Ninth is the only one to have; it is the only one which captures the essence of the final adagio, which is, after all, what the work is all about. It is truly a performance of a millenium, either the one just concluded or the one just begun; I'm not a stickler for absolute temporal accuracy. And it is truly one of life's imponderables that this album did not get a Grammy for Best Classical Performance.
This is one of those reviews for which "Comments by the Artist" are rather directly solicited. Maestro Zander, should you happen to run across this review, could you kindly comment? Thank you very much.
Thrilling as it can be
, January 16, 2000
This recording just completely captivated me from the first tone to the last. I had been in many great live perfomrances of this incredible symphony and I owned several (very different) recordings, when I first listened to Zander, but I did not hesitate a second adding his fascinating recording to my collection. There is this incredible bow of tension bent from the first movement to the last vanishing tones of the great Adagio.
A wonderful recording....A brilliant explanation
, October 14, 1999
from Bountiful, Utah
First of all, what a novel idea it is for Telarc to include the conductors own ideas and insights into Mahler's 9th symphony. It helped me understand and appreciate all the nuances of this performance. Plus, it's kinda cool to hear a British guy talk about music for about an hour.
This recording of Mahler's 9th ranks among my favorites. Why? First the sound. Telarc is celebrated for its beautiful sound, and this CD does not fail to achieve just that. Second, the performance is incredible. A definite must-hear for anyone wishing to explore Mahler in general or specifically his 9th symphony. You may need to never buy another version again.
A landmark in Mahler discography
, September 14, 1999
The sound on this Telarc recording is brilliantly clear and yet warmly atmospheric. The interpretation pays close attention to Mahler's markings in the score and achieves a level of transparency and faithfulness to the densely polyphonic structure that can only be marvelled at.
Zander's brilliantly instructive comments on the score contained on the accompanying CD alone justify the price of this recording. I found his description greatly enhanced my appreciation of this symphony, especially the 'difficult' second and third movements and their relation to the whole.
This CD sets a new benchmark for recordings of Mahler's ninth.
Congratulations to all involved.
Perhaps the greatest performance I've ever heard.
, August 3, 1999
Reviewer: Andrew M. Klein
from Washington, DC
With great understanding, passion and unbelievable balance and clarity in bringing out the complex contrapuntal nature of this masterpiece, Zander conducts an uunforgetable, penetrating performance. Bernstein, Von Karajan, Walter,Sinapoli are surpassed!