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3.4.16

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.6 (Part 3)


Continued from: "Gustav Mahler — Symphony No.6 (Part 2)"


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Gustav Mahler, Symphony No.6,
H.v.Karajan / BPh
DG

Karajan’s DG recording of the Sixth is his third-to-last Mahler recording and, along with the second Ninth, his best. Mahler was a composer to whom Karajan found only late in life… and ‘the later, the better’ fully applies to his Mahler recordings (the two to follow were the very special accounts of the Ninth) and this one could be in a category of its own. The approach to sound that he drilled into the Berlin Philharmonic, the insistence on absolute perfection (at least whenever in the recording studio), that polish, that well-oiled machine… it all works towards a truly spectacular Mahler experience. Surely on the clean side of the raw-genteel divide, it is probably the most propulsive of the “drool-free” versions. It is a little short on any particular Mahler-flavor but it more than makes up for that with its numerous other qualities. If you don’t have the splendid Christa Ludwig Rückert-Lieder and Kindertotenlieder from his studio recording of the 9th, you can get them on this disc, also.

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M6, V.Gergiev / LSO
LSO Live

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, G.Szell / Cleveland
Sony

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, R.Kubelik / BRSO
Audite

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, R.Kubelik / BRSO
DG

UK | DE | FR
You’d think that the one Symphony that should be most suited to Valery Gergiev would be the Sixth: With a stubble, crumpled suit, dark, bloodshot eyes, the smell of liquor from the long night before still lingering, ruthless and wild and with unwashed, unkempt hair. (That’s my ideal vision of the Sixth, not a description of Gergiev’s appearance.) All the greater my surprise to hear Gergiev’s Sixth—part of his Mahler Cycle with the LSO on their own label—to be a rater tame (if not quite emaciated) performance. Even if Gergiev had gone for Scherzo-Andante and three hammer blows, instead of the (now) standard Andante-Scherzo/Two, this would not qualify for inclusion among the raw, driven Sixths. I prefer it just slightly over Mariss Jansons’ all too refined Sixth with the same orchestra from just a few years earlier, but it’s far too middle-of-the-run for inclusion among my favorites.

It was with great anticipation that I listened to the brisk live recording (73 minutes; an 18 minute Allegro) of George Szell’s with the Cleveland Orchestra (Sony). But the sound is muffled, the interpretation tame, the execution without heft, and everything feels a bit middle-of-the-road. I’m also not convinced by an even faster interpretation, that of Kyrill Kondrashin (65 minutes! 16 ½ minutes for the Allegro). In direct comparison faster is usually more appealing, but in the opening movement Kondrashin doesn’t get his feet on the ground to establish the necessary weight and force. That’s too bad, as he would have been another conductor I’d have thought capable for the necessary clenching violence that so tickles me here. I’d not want to miss the performance for the mad Scherzo alone, though. Quick, live, and also on the side of understatement, rather than exaggeration, is Rafael Kubelik—the live performance on Audite showing him at his self-effacing best in Mahler.


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M6, M.Tilson-Thomas / SFO
SFO Media

UK | DE | FR

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M6, S.Rattle / CBSO
EMI/Warner

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
M6, B.Haitink / CSO
CSO Resound

UK | DE | FR
Michael Tilson Thomas (S-A) and Simon Rattle/Birmingham (A-S) both offer very fine Sixths and I admit being a bit surprised in both cases: In MTT’s case because his mix of elegance and beauty would seem to offer little more in the Sixth than Abbado or Jansons… though perhaps with more re-touching and rubato. But what he delivers is a broad, colorful performance with wildly changing, often slow tempos, and exclamation-mark ritardandos. It must have been a harrowing night for the audience to listen to this onslaught on September 12th, 2001, and brutally appropriate. It isn’t quite enough to challenge, among the SACD competition, Fischer, Eschenbach, or… Haitink. 

Haitink, too, would be a conductor whose 6th I’d not be looking to if I wanted to get knocked my teeth out. That’s incidentally not what he does, in his recent, fourth commercial recording. With the CSO, on their own label CSO Resound (SACD), he takes one of the most leisurely approaches to this symphony I’ve heard. His 90 minutes beat even MTT’s 87 and gets a right dark varnish on the work. The sound of the orchestra (and recording) is wonderfully round and plump, enhancing especially the impression left by the percussion and low strings. If only it generated a little more excitement it would be still easier to recommend it. As it turns out, I enjoy Simon Rattle’s recording (EMI), nearly as broad but zanier, a good deal more. It is among those of Rattle that are under-, rather than over-rated, and could fit either in either category of the two approaches between which I distinguish: either on the lenient side of brutal or on the bleak side of moderateness. There are omissions on this list, quite notably Zinman, whose live Sixth in Leipzig from a few years ago should have convinced me to listen to his recording immediately, based on a very lively Scherzo (sadly in the third position) and a great finale. (“Despite edge and bite, Zinman seemed to soar through the movement, propelled by an irresistible groove, undeterred by the (two) hammer-blows, and gorgeous oboe and violin solos along the way. The last note was plucked like the very thread of life was snipped in half.”) I will add a review of this and other Mahler Sixes that come my way on an irregular basis.





The font used in the title is “Bernhard Bold Condensed”


Mahler 6 "Rough" Choices


1. Benjamin Zander, Philharmonia, Telarc

2. Pierre Boulez, WPh, DG

3. John Barbirolli, New Philharmonia, EMI/Warner

4. Dimitri Mitropoulos, WDR SO, EMI

5. Michael Gielen, SWR SO BB/F, Hässler

Mahler 6 "Neat" Choices


1. Iván Fischer, Budapest FO, Channel

2. Herbert von Karajan, BPh, DG

3. Michael Tilson Thomas, SFS, SFSMedia


Mahler 6 SACD Choice


Christoph Eschenbach, Philadelphia, Ondine

Iván Fischer, Budapest FO, Channel Classics


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

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