Jonathan Nott is a British conductor who has been the music director of the Bamberg Symphony for some time now and has been drawing very positive reviews for his concerts there as well as with his recordings with the orchestra. This is the first of his CDs that I've gotten, largely because the Mahler Ninth is one that I have a particular affinity for; I own more than a half dozen recordings of the symphony. This does not make me a Mahler expert by any means but I do tend to have ideas about how the symphony should go. Nott and the Bambergers have recorded about half of the Mahler symphonies now and it is clear that they have the Austrian composer's style in their bones.
The Ninth has a somewhat unusual form. It has two slow movements surrounding two faster inner movements. It culminates in one of the great movements in all of Austro-German symphonic literature, the devastatingly moving Adagio. The opening Andante comodo is done at just the right tempo and is replete with richness of texture and individual instrumental solos. The second movement, a peasant's Ländler, beings with it some relaxation of tension via rough geniality. The Bambergers get into the spirit of it with ease; surely this is at least partly because the musicians themselves have heard music similar to this all their lives in their own south Germany. The Burleske is some of the gothic Halloween music that Mahler is so famous for. If there is any weakness in this performance it is in this movement which seems a bit restrained compared to, say, that of Gergiev (whose Ninth otherwise is, IMHO, negligible). And indeed when Nott gets to the Burleske's coda his musicians really let loose for a wild-eyed peroration. One can hear in this movement Nott's penchant for fine analysis of a work's structure, as one also does in the opening movement.
The Adagio is, of course, the summum bonum of the work, perhaps of all of Mahler's symphonies (although I should expect to get some argument about that from some Mahlerians). And here Nott is at his very best. This performance is moving in the same way that Karajan's and Abbado's are. The angst and resignation of the movement are not overdone, but in their very restraint are all the more powerful. The intensity is almost unbearable. I will admit that each time I heard this movement I ended up in tears.
In sum, then, this is a marvelous recording of the Ninth. Although the very last degree of instrumental sumptuousness may be missing when compared to that of the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics or the Concertgebouw, it is still among the best I've ever heard. The rich SACD sound is a distinct plus.
An easy recommendation.