I cannot hear the virtues that the lead reviewer hears in Jonathan Nott's latest Mahler recording. This is straight-ahead, pleasant music-making. Among literalists -- not the style of conducting I favor -- David Zinman, who seemed blank in his Sony BMG recordings, is the life of th e party compared to Nott. The first movement is so noncommittal emotionally that one would never guess its meaning, or that it had any. Admittedly, the bar is set very high in Mahler performance. I can't see who would pay almost $30 to hear a provincial German orchestra of no great ability (I've heard them in concert) when you can have a great conductor and orchestra for half the price.
After a nondescript opening, Nott gathers energy and intensity as he proceeds. He rarely digs in, and his solo players are no better than good enough, yet events proceed nicely enough. The rustic Scherzo is direct and untroubled; there's no evidence of parody or satire, however. The tumultuous Rondo-Burleske challenges even the premiere orchestras, so NOtt is careful not to go at such a breakneck speed that ensemble will fall apart. As a result, the reading feels tame. On the whole, however, his interpretation of this movement captures more of Mahler's wild contrasts than previously. The Adagio, which others often take extremely slowly in order to milk its pathos, Nott approaches sensibly. The great wrenching theme that opens the movement isn't tragic in his hands but more lyrical and nostalgic. It's a valid point of view, and I enjoyed the performance, even though it comes off as rather mild-mannered.
In any event, I wanted readers to get a different point of view. This is a pleasant, moderately accomplished Ninth. If one wanted to explore provincial orchestras, it would pay more dividends to sample Alan Gilbert's new Mahler Ninth from Stockholm; altogether it is more expressive and better played.