In September 2009 Alan Gilbert began his tenure as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, the first native New Yorker to hold the post. And… you might ask why “first native New Yorker” is of significance? In the past, musicians such as Arturo Toscanini, and Gustav Mahler were conductors of this world-famous orchestra! And later, another foreign born musician such as Bruno Walter became the leader of this group. All of these 3 were, of course, foreign born.
Alan Gilbert, now 42, had been the chief conductor of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra since 2000, and in this recording one senses that he gets the orchestra to respond to his strong leadership and direction. Gilbert’s performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony on this CD is energetic, full of emotion, yet also tender, tragic, and engaging where it needs to be. The first movement’s ambiguous opening theme, as hesitant as a faltering heartbeat, is – for me – the actual fact of life facing the composer at that time: He had recently lost his daughter to Diphtheria, his marriage was faltering, and he had been diagnosed with a serious heart ailment. Mahler paints that status in the opening movement of this symphony, with seemingly deep conviction that this work would be his last.
The second and third movements bring some relief from the opening sadness in that they are, respectively:
2: Im Tempo eines gemächlichen Ländlers (an Austrian peasant Dance tempo)
3: Rondo-Burlesque. Allegro assai (A more rapid Rondo tempo)
In the Finale, Mahler is back to an Adagio in which he seemingly reaffirms the sadness of the opening bars to share with the listener his breathtaking and deeply moving emotion. We hear the orchestra’s string section in a full range of dynamics as the shadings of the long, dark elegy. Gilbert successfully sustains the melodic line even when the music becomes soft, dark, and somber.
Here is a neat video in which the musicians of the New York Philharmonic talk about their new conductor: