Mariss Jansons - Mahler: Symphonies 1-9. © 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH

CD Spotlight

A Transcendental Experience

GERALD FENECH is impressed by this Mahler symphony cycle from Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

'It is absolutely mystifying how this kind of music-making is humanly possible.'


Jansons and Mahler: The Perfect Blend – The Perfect Chemistry. But let us start with Jansons the conductor.

Mariss Jansons was born on 14 January 1943 while his mother, the singer Iraida Jansons, who was Jewish, was in hiding in Riga, Latvia's capital. After being smuggled out of the City Ghetto, mother and child somehow managed to survive. As a child, Mariss first studied violin with his father, the conductor Arvids Jansons, who was chosen by the great Yevgeny Mravinsky to be his assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic. When his family joined him in 1956, young Mariss entered the Leningrad Conservatory. The promising future conductor continued to study piano and the art of the baton, then in 1959 he started to train with Herbert von Karajan, who invited him to be his assistant with the Berlin Philharmonic, but the Soviet authorities blocked Jansons from ever hearing about the offer. In 1979, Jansons was appointed music director of the Oslo Philharmonic, with which he performed, recorded and toured extensively. He resigned this position in 2000 after disputes with the city over the acoustics of the Oslo Concert Hall. In 1992, Jansons was named principal guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and even worked with the London Symphony Orchestra as guest conductor. It was with the latter ensemble that Jansons recorded Mahler's Sixth for the LSO Live label.

In April 1996 in Oslo, Jansons nearly died while conducting the final pages of Puccini's La bohème, after a heart attack. After recuperating in Switzerland, surgeons in Pittsburgh fitted a defibrillator in his chest to give his heart an electric jolt if it failed. In 1997 Jansons became the music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, but left in 2004 citing jet lag as the reason for his departure. In 2006 and 2012 he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic New Year's Concert to great acclaim. In October 2007, Jansons – who himself was a Lutheran – conducted Beethoven's Choral Symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for Pope Benedict XVI and seven thousand other listeners in the Sala Paolo VI at the Vatican. The winner of numerous awards, Jansons was presented with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany by President Joachim Gauck in Berlin in October 2013. The conductor was married twice. He had a daughter, Ilona, from his first wife Ira, who became a pianist at the Mariinsky Theatre. His second wife, Irina, a former speech therapist, had a home in St Petersburg, where Jansons kept his collection of scores. He had both Latvian and Russian citizenship. Jansons conducted his last hurrah on the night of 30 November / 1 December 2019 at his Tolstoy House, St Petersburg, as a result of a long standing heart condition, aged seventy-six.

Now to Mahler. In his nine completed symphonies, Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) built up an entire world for himself and his listeners. More than almost any other composer, he tried in his symphonic works to get to the very bottom of the cycle of life, that ongoing process of birth and death which goes on until the end of time, when only eternity remains.

Listen — Mahler: Finale (Symphony No 9)
(900719 CD10 track 4, 23:05-23:04) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

Jansons found simple and clear words to express what it was that so fascinated and moved him about Mahler's music throughout his life. He said that the composer's work always related to what was universal and contained absolutely everything that exists in the world. In Jansons' view, Mahler's symphonies capture nature, faith, love, death, pain, tragedy, happiness, utopia, irony, sarcasm and what's left that makes up human existence. Jansons regarded Mahler's symphonic testament as posing questions that ultimately every thinking person has to ask, and everyone can find something in it where they recognize themselves as if in a mirror. Still, there are no definitive answers in Mahler, 'nothing triumphant that is at one with itself'. When Jansons first encountered Mahler's music, it struck him like a bolt from the blue. He felt that 'he was in heaven', and was, as he himself put it, never disappointed.

Listen — Mahler: Rondo-Finale (Symphony No 5)
(900719 CD6 track 5, 0:00-0:50) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

Gradually, Mariss Jansons developed into one of the leading Mahler conductors of his era. Indeed, he can count himself very lucky to have had the Bayerischen Rundfunks Symphony Orchestra for these recordings, an ensemble steeped in the Mahler tradition founded by Rafael Kubelik in the early 1960s. Jansons was cautious before he embarked on his Mahler project. In fact, he waited three years after taking up his post as principal conductor of the orchestra in question, before tackling a Mahler symphony for the first time in 2006. He opened with the complicated Fifth, and displayed something that would also go on to characterize his later interpretations: a balance between emotionality and control that was in many ways ideal, combining maximum intensity with a keen sense of just how far to go in terms of expression.

Listen — Mahler: Stürmisch bewegt (Symphony No 1)
(900719 CD1 track 4, 0:00-0:55) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

This is not just another set of Mahler symphonies that one purchases to simply augment one's collection; this is a transcendental experience that takes you on a journey from the cradle to the grave, and yes, beyond. It is absolutely mystifying how this kind of music-making is humanly possible.

Listen — Mahler: Andante moderato (Symphony No 6)
(900719 CD7 track 3, 13:30-14:23) ℗ 2022 BRmedia Service GmbH :

This twelve-disc issue also comes along with a two-CD bonus revealing Jansons's deep knowledge of these works while rehearsing the Third (2010) and Fifth (2016), and during a concert guide to the Seventh. Interviews on the Fourth (2010) and Seventh (2007) are also forthcoming.

All this vividly conveys Jansons's fascination with Mahler's music and his total commitment to the cause. If you miss it, it's a sin.

Copyright © 18 November 2022 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta








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