This performance of Mahler's ninth was recorded in studio in July 1982, in fine analogue sound. What we hear is Kurt Sanderling conducting the BBC Philharmonic, and, in my view, it must be seen as one of the very best performances that we have of this demanding work.
Sanderling is a first rate Mahler conductor, at least in so far we focus on late works. We have stunning performances under his baton of the tenth symphony (Berlin Classics, Cooke's edition: Mahler: Symphony No. 10 [Remastered] [Japan]), and of Das Lied von der Erde (on Berlin Classics, with Schreier and Finnilä: Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde). There is also two other recordings of his interpretation of the ninth, on Erato with Philharmonia Orchestra in 1991 (Mahler: Symphony No. 9) and on Berlin Classics with Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester in 1979 (Mahler: Symphony No. 9).
Among his three recordings of the ninth, the present one is the one to have. Unlike the two other recordings, although they are quite good too, the BBC recording has caught a performance of a lifetime. In terms of the structural grasp of the movements, it is clearly superior, with the Berlin 1979 recording to be the second best.
The conception of first movement is determined, with a flowing march-like tempo that suggest a clear line through the movement's conflicting parts. The climaxes are overwhelming, especially the great "collapse" of the movement at 148-210 which is truly outstanding. Wonderful playing from the BBC Philharmonic here. The movement stops at 26'26 (cf. 1979: 27'28; 1991: 27'50), thus more than one minute faster than on his two other recordings.
The Ländler (2nd movement) is beautifully rustic and witty, with the orchestra showing off with great woodwind playing - all due to Sanderling's superb attention to tempo shifts, orchestral details and the contrapuntal structure. It clocks in at 16'01 (cf. 1979: 16'38; 1991: 16'38), thus being Sanderling's fastest account of this movement.
The Rondo-Burlesque (3rd movement) demonstrate excellent "dirty" trumpet and clarinet playing, indicating Sanderling's consistent conception of the work's "insane" logic which is so central in this movement, with its brutal mix of lyricism and Dionysian burlesque. Stopping at 13'04, it is marginally slower than on his two other recordings (cf. 1979: 12'28; 1991: 13'03).
Finally the finale is delivered from a non-dragging, naked and clean conception, very much unlike, say, Bernstein's 1979 Berlin recording on DG (26'12) and Bertini's on EMI (28'43). Kubelik's brisk interpretation on Audite (21'46) is closer to this sharp conception of Mahler's complex musical vision of loss, death, and memory. But at 23'48 the interpretation is faster than on his 1991 recording (24'28) while it is marginally slower that the 1979 Berlin recording (23'22).
So, to sum up, this is a great, overwhelming, stunning recording of the ninth. Fine orchestra, excellent sound, and a consistent conception from a serious conductor.