EMI and now Warner Classics have released this 1967 Mahler Ninth recording from Otto Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra a number of times (EMI on LP and CD; Warner on CD), with the copy my having on hand being from EMI-Japan. The sound has always been good, no matter what the format or issue, but its latest remastering from HDTT (High Definition Tape Transfers) sounds better than ever.
Although Mahler's last completed symphony was the crowning jewel in his symphonic cycle, beauteous and sublime, it has always been somewhat ambiguous. Many listeners have interpreted its expressionistic content as an optimistic journey into the light, ending in sweet and everlasting repose, while others have seen the work as a pessimistic view of the world's future where degeneration and decay are our lot. I favor the former view, but I suppose there is something to be said for the second viewpoint as well. At the time of the work's composition in 1909, Mahler was aware that he was gravely ill, and in addition he may have foreseen the coming of the Great War and the end of civilization as his generation had known it. So, there is every possibility of interpreting the symphony either optimistically or pessimistically. Klemperer, who first performed the work in 1925, just thirteen years after its première, knew the piece backwards and wisely took mostly the former course in his interpretation.
Even though I am also greatly fond of Barbirolli's performance with the Berlin Philharmonic (EMI, Warner, and HDTT), Walter's with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Sony and HDTT), and Haitink's with the Concertgebouw (Philips), I believe Klemperer's reading deserves to be included among the top contenders as well. Incidentally, both Klemperer and Walter were assistants to Mahler, so they both speak with some authority. I can't imagine not owning their stereo recordings (along with Barbirolli's and Haitink's, of course).
Producers Peter Andry and Suvi Raj Grubb and engineer Robert Gooch recorded the symphony at Kingsway Hall, London in February 1967, and HDTT transferred the recording from a 15ips 2-track tape. Because Klemperer's Mahler Ninth is just a few minutes beyond the capacity of a single CD, HDTT have spread it out over two discs, just as EMI did.
Unlike what I found comparing HDTT's remastering of Sir John Barbirolli's Mahler Ninth to an EMI-Japan HQCD, where the sound of the EMI-Japan HQCD was slightly smoother to my ears than HDTT's transfer, the sound of Klemperer's Mahler Ninth was just the opposite. I compared the HDTT product to one of EMI-Japan's regular, non-HQ CD's and found the newer HDTT transfer smoother, richer, warmer, and fuller. EMI's sound (now on Warner Classics) is still quite good, mind you, but the HDTT is just that much better. It is detailed yet natural, with a wide stereo spread, good orchestral depth, and an appealing ambient bloom.
I know that Barbirolli, Haitink, Walter, Abbado, Karajan, Bernstein, and others have produced fine Mahler Ninths, but to my mind and my ears, none of them is any better than Klemperer's recording. It is a joy.
For more information on the various formats, configurations, and prices of HDTT products, you can visit their Web site at https://www.highdeftapetransfers.com/.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: