J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I will admit that I cannot listen to or attend a performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony too often because it leaves me exhilarated but wrung out. And this DVD of a performance with Claudio Abbado conducting the group he founded in 1986, the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, has had that effect on me. I was so overwhelmed by it that I had to sit in a dark room, near tears, for fifteen minutes after it had finished in order to regain my composure. Certainly that is the effect the music often has on me, but in this instance there were other factors involved. The GMJO is made up young European musicians (plus, strangely, a couple from Cuba) who have gained admittance to the orchestra via auditions in twenty-five cities across the Continent. Their intense involvement with the music-making is fueled at least partly by their youth and enthusiasm as well as the opportunity for many of them to be playing this masterpiece for the first time. Lest one think that their youth and inexperience lowers their competence in this music, let me guarantee you that their instrumental assurance here is astonishing. Their emotional involvement with the music is almost palpable. In the rhythmic passages -- the Ländler and parts of the Rondo-Burleske, for instance -- they almost literally dance in their seats. In the ecstatic passages, and particularly in the closing pages of the symphony, their concentration, their almost religious fervor is visible. The Ninth has numerous instrumental solo passages and every single one of them is taken with musicianship, subtlety and élan. I would particularly single out the solo horn, bassoon, flute, first violin, cello and viola. The very young-appearing first trumpet played like a god.
After a slightly rough edge in the strings in the first movement, the performance settles in and for most of the following 80+ minutes one hears silken, solid ensemble in strings, winds and brass. Abbado, one of the great conductors now working (and looking healthy in this concert recorded in April 2004, after years of appearing gaunt, almost fragile), conducts without score and clearly is in rare communication with his players. He is one of the few conductors I adore watching. Not only are his gestures impressively clear as regards rhythm and articulation, he communicates the pure emotions of the music through his face and gestures. In Mahler, particularly, this is a plus. And he does it without seeming to dance on the podium. One never doubts what he is feeling and conveying to the orchestra. Fortunately we get to see this via a camera trained on him, but without it becoming a vanity project as it was for his predecessor at the Berlin Philharmonic. Television director Bob Coles and producer Paul Smaczny are pros, and they know how to vary the shots without interfering with the music and indeed the camera movement enhances, in most instances, its flow. In the closing pages of the symphony -- which, as you will recall, is a very gradual, ecstatic diminuendo/decrescendo into nothingness -- the lights on the orchestra are ever so subtly lowered so that the symphony ends in almost complete darkness. This could have been a clumsy, melodramatic maneuver but here it is done so unobtrusively as to be almost subliminal. The effect, though, is to emphasize Mahler's rapt final thoughts.
The performance was recorded at a concert in the visually stunning new hall of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome.This is the second Mahler symphony DVD with Abbado. The other, of the Fifth, was with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (which is made up of principals from all over Europe joining with alumni of the GMJO, an ensemble calling themselves the Mahler Chamber Orchestra). It, too, was outstanding. I look forward to more additions to this series, if series it be. These two DVDs make me keen for more.
Very enthusiastically recommended.
1DVD; Sound: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, or DTS 5.1; TT=84mins
Emile Myburgh | Johannesburg, South Africa | 11/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The orchestra does not sound like a youth orchestra. If they only released this performance on CD, one would never have guessed it was an ensemble of young people. They sound like a professional orchestra. Personally, I think the principal violist is the best, her solos in the Landler are superb. The best part is however at the end when members of the audience go up to Claudio Abbado, shaking his hand and congratulating him. We cannot hear what they are saying, of course, but we don't need to: "Maestro, it is incredible that you could make these young people play like this!""
Superlative Mahler, Incredible Orchestra
HB | Fort Mill, SC | 01/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If ever a composer wrote music for the future, it was Gustav Mahler. While his music is best heard live, it is also extremely enjoyable on CD and even better on DVD, especially when it is played by a great youth orchestra. Too see and hear all these good looking young people play Mahler is a real treat. They play with incredible passion and their virtuosity is simply stunning. I have heard Mahler 9 three times in concert and this performance was the best played. And one of those performances was by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the greatest conductor, orchestra cominations of all time. The interpretation by Claudio Abbado is wonderfully conservative. He does not seem interested in draining every ounce of drama out of this great masterpiece. It is a lyrical performance that rises to very great heights. If you love great orchestral music, this DVD is a must."
My Desert Island DVD
John David Philip | 07/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The best sound and one of the best rehearsed performances I've ever seen on DVD. All eyes are on Abbado: the players almost seem to have the score down by heart. And the conviction with which the youth orchestra plays is awesome. So wonderful to at last have a DVD Mahler #9, and such an outstanding one."
Recommended but with reservations and footnotes.
R. Mathes | Cos Cob, CT, U.S.A. | 05/30/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I write this review mainly because the other reviews for this DVD are such out and out raves that I felt the need to comment. The Bottom line is that yes, it is filmed beautifully and the orchestra are young, brilliant, attractive, and completely engaged musicians. The effect of this cannot be denied. Watching a young and vibrant group of people play one of the most important masterpieces of the last 200 years conducted by one of its greatest living interpreters is a treat. HOWEVER, and this is a big HOWEVER, the problem is that Claudio Abbado himself has created a standard that is simply not reached by this performance.
The Abbado DVD's with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (Symphonies 2,3,5,6 and 7) are astonishing performances, each and every one. That is the problem. I grew up on the Bernstein videos which, in some ways, laid the gauntlet down for future Mahler Performances. I never thought they could be bettered. The Abbado/Lucerne performances though will stand for a long time as the essential Mahler on Video. Indeed; though the Bernstein's are essential viewing for anyone interested in Mahler, Abbado's Lucerne accounts are among the greatest performances of the past quarter century.
This performance is just simply not the equal of those. In some ways that doesn't make sense. The basis for the Lucerne group is the Mahler Orchestra here. In Lucerne though, this orchestra is peppered with master musicians like Natalia Gutman, members of the Alban Berg quartet, Sabine Mayer's Wind Ensemble and others from the Berlin Phil.
The difference is palpable and it is a shame that he chose this performance as his official DVD of the 9th. His Berlin audio recording is just magnificent and he is a peerless interpreter of this symphony among living conductors. I dearly hope that he re-records it in Lucerne within the next few years. He is re-taping the Mahler 4 this summer and The Mahler Youth Orchestra did it with him in Vienna for video so hopefully he will re-do this in Lucerne.
Having an Abbado/Mahler 9 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra would be amazing. This may sound silly but there is a real sense in Lucerne that these musicians, these masters, are getting together with a conductor they absolutely adore and that everyone in the room realizes how rarified the atmosphere is. Questions like- How many more summers will Abbado be with us? & How many times do musicians of this caliber come together in an orchestral setting???- come up. Abbado seems to feed off this.
An example of a moment that would be entirely different in Lucerne I believe is the first 5 pages of the score. 5 of the greatest pages ever written. For some reason Abbado kind of runs through these moments in this DVD and does not make anything of them at all. He has never been a "gild the lily" type like Bernstein. This is one of his greatest strengths (and occasionally a weakness as some performances are just too manicured). However, for some reason the intensity of his Berlin 9th is nowhere to be found here.
I do recommend this disc because the playing is excellent, the interpretation is certainly world class in its way, and they are a beautiful group to watch but that is where it ends. Wait for an Abbado LUCERNE M9. That will be something to behold. R"