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3.4.16

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.6 (Part 2)


Continued from: "Gustav Mahler — Symphony No.6 (Part 1)"
Continued here: "Gustav Mahler — Symphony No.6 (Part 3)"


available at Amazon
G.Mahler, Symphony No.6,
B.Zander/Philharmonia
Telarc

My preference has long been Benjamin Zander’s recording, whose ongoing cycle on Telarc (also available on SACDs) comes with a commentary disc discussing each symphony. These comments range from good and entertaining to revealing and insightful—and his commentary on the Sixth is particularly fine. The Telarc sound—here as on Yoel Levi’s recordings—is usually very good, too, and while the Sixth is not the strongest of his issues on that count, it’s still better than most contenders. Zander, who cares deeply about Mahler’s music, takes his time with the Sixth—but still gets tremendous excitement out of it and squarely falls down on the ‘raw’ side of interpretations. Everyone can program the movement order any way they wish—but Zander also offers choice when it comes to the Hammerblow ‘dilemma’. He recorded both versions (although being a firm believer in three, rather than two, such blows) on this two-disc set (plus one disc for the 80 minute commentary) that sells for the price of one. His heavy involvement in the music leaves fingerprints; there is some pulling of tempi that can strike one as self-conscious. It’s zany and neurotic and sometimes it stalls. There are those who will find this very disconcerting, but it strikes me all as befitting the symphony. The Philharmonia might never be included among the top Mahler orchestras, but balances and execution are largely without flaws and I have no qualms putting it at the top of my personal list... even if it cannot be recommended without a little “emptor caveat”.

available at Amazon
M6, C.Eschenbach / Philadelphia
Ondine

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, M.Gielen / SWR SO BB/F
Hässler

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, J.Darlington / Duisburg Phil.
Acousence

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, C.Abbado II / BPh
DG

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, M.Jansons II / RCO
RCO Live

UK | DE | FR
One of the latest additions of ‘Sixths’ needs to be mentioned: Christoph Eschenbach, in his third recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra on Ondine, delivers a parting salvo of grand proportions (the recording was released at around the same time he announced to step down as Music Director in Philadelphia after a tenure fraught with unease and disagreements). Next to Gielen’s and Zander’s, it’s the only modern recording of the Sixth that can be included in the ‘wild’ category. Eschenbach delivers only two Hammerblows but interestingly he takes the Scherzo first. Playing (plenty aggression) and sound on the SACD hybrid are flawless. It is heavy and heavy hitting, sometimes slow to get its own weight moving in the first movement—but rarely ever to its detriment, usually to the benefit of its ransacking, pillaging quality. The dainty, ‘Nutcrackery’ interludes and gentleness in the same movement sound all the more like false calm. Coupling it with the Mahler Piano Quartet (filling out the second disc) was a great idea, too, especially when the playing is as good as here.

Gielen, at his best, combines the analytic ability of Boulez with the charged quality of Barbirolli. Less emotional than Boulez at times but more willing to go for the music’s ‘ugly bite’. His 1999 Sixth brings those two sides together to splendid effect. Gielen can turn from delicate to viciously nasty on a dime. His brass lumbers drunkenly in the Scherzo (taken first). His orchestras’ voices can all be heard, which is where Gielen’s clean approach comes in. The Sixth needs not to be analyzed perhaps, but of the finished symphonies of Mahler it is the one that demands most that its disparate voices be heard as such and not part of a large mass of sound, bombastic thought much of it appears. It is almost difficult not to sympathize with the (harsh) critics of his time who found Mahler’s symphonies, and the Sixth especially so, to be brazen cacophonies, loud and obnoxious caricatures of themselves. “Monkey-music” and “Music-by-the-Mile” were the lesser accusations.

Gustav Altmann had put it better when he said that Mahler’s work is like an eloquent speaker whose eloquence and decent manner will make you listen to him once... but who then proceeds to tell you the same point over and over again, with ever increasing insistence and self-satisfaction, ever louder. Until he no longer speaks but screams right in your face—as though he was not able to convince by virtue of content but only loudness or strength…

Like individuals unconcerned with their surrounding, the instruments blare and yelp in seeming unconcerned bliss and ignorance. It’s the rather the contradiction of Sym-Phony. The Sixth of Mahler is in many places decidedly Asymphonic.  And even when you get to the resting-pool of the work, the gorgeous Andante, it is a beautiful melody but constructed completely askew. The twist makes it more intriguing and is typical Mahler—but adds that sense of instability to it that makes it less the respite it seems at first. Gielen, to get back to his recording, is wonderfully calm and gently flowing here—ending happily and audibly on that succulent plopped bass note before heading for the drama of the half hour finale. (That ClassicToday’s David Hurwitz, a champion of Gielen’s Mahler, happens to like his recordings so much may indeed not have anything to do with him having written the fine liner notes for it. He does, however, fail to mention this in any review of his.)

Belonging in this category is also an ‘unlikely incredible’ recording I became aware of only this month: Jonathan Darlington and the Duisburg Philharmonic put down a first movement that comes as close to my ideal as any. On the audiophile Acousense label (mentioned when I wrote about their now out-of-print recording of the Hamburg version of the First Symphony) the Duisburg band puts its foot down from the opening notes achieving a gripping, raw cello sound and enormous forward drive. At almost 23 ½ minutes Darlington is on the slower side of first movements, but his opening sounds—and is—faster than just about anyone else’s. The pace, if not the speed, is kept up throughout… but then slackens a little in the following Andante, one of the slower ones on record. The cowbells, unfortunately, sound more like an inconsiderate caterer’s clangy dinner cart is being pushed by the orchestra, but that’s my only real complaint. The Scherzo and the Finale are ravishing. A terrific performance well caught in concert.


available at Amazon
G.Mahler, Symphony No.6,
B.Zander/Philharmonia
Telarc

Those who find Zander too willful probably take better to a generally gentler approach to the Sixth. They should be sent to Boulez first, but if they still like more beauty and serenity, they will want to explore the category of recordings by Abbado, Jansons and Ivan Fischer. Claudio Abbado’s most recent recording with the Berlin Philharmonic has been hyped, hailed, and awarded. The Gramophone and The Financial Times both raved about it. It wasn’t much to my liking when I reviewed it and it isn’t now. It’s good and excellently played and it’s mild and gentle, genteel and polished—and unfortunately also quite listless, if not comatose. Not much better is Mariss Jansons’ first recording on the LSO live label. Again an excellent and high standard of playing that ultimately lead no further than momentary pleasure; possibly less. His new, very similar, recording of the same work—this time on the RCO live label—sounds slightly better but still has the same effect on me with its rounded corners and politeness. The one recording of Jansons that would be special and might just have a real shot at list-topping greatness won’t likely be released. Assuming, of course, that it would sound anything like the live performance, his account with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was revelatory, gritty, brutal, totally-un-Jansons-like and amazing. But the BR Klassik and the RCO Live labels had an agreement that they would not issue the same repertoire with Jansons, so the tepid RCO Sixth will remain and the ripping BRSO account (BR Klassik have since released a later recording of the Sixth with Daniel Harding) might at best become a subscription holder’s CD. The one recording that aims for beauty and long lines and good behavior but immediately involves and shakes you up is Ivan Fischer’s with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Scherzo third, like all the above… ditto two Hammerblows, but with rhythmic insight and feeling that it is a complete joy. In SACD- or regular sound, this is a winner and one of the finest Sixths recorded. Continue...



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Find a list of the ex-WETA Mahler Posts here: http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2009/12/mahler-survey.html

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