It was to Bruno Walter that Mahler entrusted the score of his Ninth Symphony in the autumn of 1910, knowing that he himself would not live to conduct the premiere. Walter gave the premiere on June 26, 1912, in Vienna, and throughout his long career remained the work's greatest champion. He was 84 when he made this recording, and the reading he elicits from the Columbia Symphony is suffused with nostalgia, warmth, and deep sentiment. Here, a work of leave-taking is interpreted in the spirit of leave-taking, though the treatment is no less radiant and sincere for being somewhat detached.
You will probably be as incredulous as I was to learn that the greatest cycle of Mahler symphonies comes not from any of the usual suspects - Abbado, Bernstein, Chially, Haitink, Kubelik, Rattle, Sinopoli, Solti, Tennstedt - but from the unsung Gary Bertini, who spent the better part of his career as music director of the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. Unlike any of those more publicized sets, each of which includes a misfire or two, Bertini is consistently successful from first to last; his performance of each of these works can stand comparison with the very best available.
So there's lots to admire here, and very little to criticize, but competition in these two works is so strong, and standards of both playing and interpretation are so high, that it's impossible to give this set an unqualified recommendation. That said, these are very enjoyable performances that never once fail to uphold the highest international standards of playing, and they are really superbly recorded. If you have a chance to hear them, you will doubtless be glad that you did.
It's increasingly common to hear the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven played on original instruments and according to authentic period practices, which have become de rigueur for many contemporary conductors and orchestras. But Martin Haselböck and the Vienna Academy Orchestra go one step further by playing them in their original Viennese venues, thus creating something close to the sound and impact of the first performances.