The Unusual Suspects
David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra have presented exceptional performances of Gustav Mahler's symphonies in the hybrid SACD format, and this recording of the Symphony No. 9 in D major follows suit in its spot-on reading and splendid sound. Among the most enigmatic and difficult of Mahler's completed symphonies to interpret (perhaps only exceeded in strangeness by the Symphony No. 7, or in mystery by the unfinished Symphony No. 10), the Symphony No. 9 is haunted by visions of death, and Mahler's range of expressions runs from poignant lyricism to abject terror, resignation, and finally, sublime transformation. Zinman takes the pulse of the work from its opening, throbbing notes (often thought to be a representation of Mahler's cardiac arrhythmia), and accurately gauges its progress through these emotions, which suddenly change and often without warning. The expressions never go over the top, and Zinman is careful to stay away from caricature, but he still brings across the extreme emotional nature of Mahler's music. The Tonhalle is flawless in its playing and cohesive and powerful as an ensemble, despite the many chamber-like passages that at times make it seem less imposing and even fragile in sonority. The multichannel DSD audio is expansive, deep, and clear, so details and special timbres are wonderfully showcased. Highly recommended.