Some years ago, around 1999, I wrote about Philips's repackaging of Bernard Haitink's Mahler Ninth with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in a Philips Duo set, coupled with Das Lied von der Erde. I said at the time that Haitink's 1969 recording of the Symphony No. 9 never sounded better. Then, a couple of years later, Philips remastered it yet again, this time using 96kHz, 24-bit technology and with a different coupling, the Wunderhorn lieder. The results were better than ever, and even though Philips is gone, the set is still available (see below).
On the plus side, the new issue really does sound slightly smoother to me than the older Philips CD, with a smidgen more depth to the orchestral field. On the minus side (or plus depending on your point of view), Philips spread the symphony over two discs, the fourth movement occupying the first track of the second disc. Maybe in spreading it out, Philips felt they were better able to accommodate the work's length without sacrificing any degradation of sound, but I'm not sure that's the main reason for the new issue sounding better. The other minus is that I miss Haitink's Das Lied von der Erde, even if it did sound a mite fierce sonically. Anyway, Jessye Norman and John Shirley-Quirk's singing on the Wunderhorn lieder, recorded in 1976, sounds beautiful, and Philips warmly recorded it. I'd say if one does not already have the superb Schwarzkopf, Fischer-Dieskau, Szell set on EMI, which seems to me performed with an even more pungent bite, this Philips version is a good alternative.
Haitink's handling of the opening movement sounds relaxed, building to a grand, lyrical climax; the second movement appears evenly paced; the third movement is surprisingly outgoing for a conductor of Haitink's refined and contained temperament; and the finale comes across as beautifully controlled, the music diminishing gradually and evenly into eternal silence. It is a performance that deserves a ranking among the very best on record, maybe the very best on record, especially after Philips remastered it.
The catch: as I alluded earlier, Philips has long been out of business and finding copies of this particular set could be tricky (and expensive if you're not careful). Still, there are new copies available at low prices and even more economical used ones if you look carefully enough. The Amazon link below should make a good starting point.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: