Now in his early 40s, British conductor Daniel Harding takes on the finest of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies – the Ninth – wherein the composer creates a sort of world symphony or overview of life itself, troubled as he was with serious cardiac problems. The Ninth is a symphony of opposites – of life and death, a continuing sense of catch and release, of passion and intellect.
Of course, the catalogue is overflowing. My favourites lie with Karajan’s live account and the only account where Bernstein conducted the same orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, drawing so much emotion out of each phrase it’s as if he’s recomposing as he conducts.
Harding offers a bit of both, following in the footsteps of his mentors Abbado and Rattle (some wag referred to him early on as Baby Rattle). Harding has been working with this Swedish orchestra for over a decade and his earlier recordings have led to a fine coupling here caught in excellent sound by the engineers.
The opening movement possesses an innate sense of elegance without any Bernstein note-wringing, whilst the Austrian folk-dance rhythm (Ländler) has welcome grunt and rusticity. However, the muffled passion we get in Bernstein and Abbado is sadly missing here (in the Rondo Burleske) where a little more attack in the rhythm and complex counterpoint would have added gravitas. There are no quibbles with the final Adagio with its gorgeous string players and exemplary soloists.