Mahler Symphony No. 9 / Mahler Symphony No. 4 / Wilms / Alan Gilbert

MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 in D
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orch/Alan Gilbert, cond.
BIS SACD 1710 (2 disks) TT: 82:22

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G
Miah Persson, soprano; Budapest Festival Orch/Iván Fischer, cond.

WILMS: Overture in D. Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 9. Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 23.
NDR Radio Philharmonic Orch/Howard Griffiths
CPO SACD 777 209 TT: 65:13

Alan Gilbert, now music director of the New York Philharmonic, has a brilliant career. He has held other major positions including eight seasons with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra of which he is now conductor laureate. This is his first Mahler recording, a remarkable performance of Symphony No. 9 that has no weak points. Orchestral playing is superb, and sonically this is a knock-out. Hans Kipfer was producer/engineer, and he did a magnificent job. Gilbert's performance is among the longest ever recorded, and is a tribute to BIS that they have been able to accommodate it on a single disk with a playing time of 82:22.

More sublime Mahler can be heard on Iván Fischer's latest recording: he already has splendid SACD releases of Symphony No. 2 (REVIEW) and Symphony No. 6 (REVIEW). Here is a radiant performance of Symphony No. 4 recorded in September 2008 in Budapest's Palace of Arts. Producer Hein Dekker who also was an engineer along with C. Jared Sacks did a splendid job in capturing warm orchestral sound. Swedish soprano Miah Persson, best known for her Bach, Mozart and Handel, has the perfect voice for the last movement's angelic text. Mahler's Symphony No. 4 is well represented on audiophile recordings. SACD versions, particularly those conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and David Zinman, are exemplary as are DVDs by Claudio Abbado and Bernard Haitink—but the preferred Haitink video is not the one with the Berlin Philharmonic, but the one included in the difficult to find Philips multi-disk set of Concertgebouw Kerstmatinees videos (REVIEW).

Record companies often release recordings of music by forgotten composers, and usually there is a reason for their being overlooked. Such surely is not the case with the obscure Dutch composer Johann Wilhelm Wilms (1772-1847), a contemporary of Beethoven. In spite of high praise given to Wilms' music, he was perhaps too traditional for the time. He wrote 7 symphonies and 5 piano concertos as well as chamber and keyboard music. This superb SACD gives us the opportunity to hear the delightful Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 9 written in 1805, as well as Symphony No. 4, Op. 23 composed 7 years later. Each has four movements, the first an allegro preceded by an adagio, the second an andante, the third a menuetto, and a sparkling final allegro. We also have one of his five overtures written for "festive occasions" towards the end of his career. Delightful music, and it is superbly played by the Hannover ensemble under enterprising conductor Howard Griffiths. Beautiful sonics, too, with the orchestra in front in a most natural way.

R.E.B. (November 2009)