Haitink conducted the last full Mahler symphony a staggering four times with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. This recording was the first, but he recorded the work again in 1987, in 2011 for a DVD recording, and finally as his farewell concert in 2019.
A well chosen symphony as a farewell. Some people say that in the last part of this symphony one can hear Mahler say goodbye to life. Though that might not be historically entirely true (Mahler wrote it when he was still feeling healthy, and was actually working on his tenth symphony when he died), Mahler was afraid of the ninth. The great Beethoven, but also Schubert and Bruckner, wrote nine symphonies, then died. We might never know what Mahler meant with his music: he died before he could hear it performed.
Nevertheless, this is music about losing, diminishing and fading.
It is terrifying, and paralyzing, as the strands of sound disintegrate … in ceasing, we lose it all. But in Mahler’s ceasing, we have gained everything.Leonard Bernstein