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ALLA BREVE

May 31, 1987|ALLAN ULRICH

MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 9. Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. DG 419 208-2 (two compact discs). We may live in an age in which conductors too often aim for heartless perfection on the podium, but Bernstein, to whom heartlessness has always been anathema, may err in the other direction here, wringing the very life out of Mahler's last completed symphony in the name of expression. He favors agonizingly slow tempos for the outer movements (each of which runs 30 minutes), spontaneous and generous applications of rubato and characteristic emotional and dynamic extremes. As a result, Bernstein exposes Mahler's nerve endings without completely sewing up the patient after the operation. The opening Andante is all feeling without internal linear coherence, the "Laendler" roisterous rather than charming, the Rondo-Burleske exudes menace from the first bar and the serene final Adagio so caresses every phrase in search of an epiphany that the music threatens to stand still. DG's live 1985 recording, which captures the fabled warmth of the Concertgebouw in its home auditorium, is oppressively close.

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