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Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Piano [Hybrid SACD]

Christoph Eschenbach (Piano); Audio CD

Price: CDN$ 28.64 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Disc: 1
1. I. Allegro Energico, Ma Non Troppo. Heftig, Aber Markig
2. II. Scherzo
3. III. Andante Moderato
Disc: 2
1. IV. Finale (Allegro Moderato)
2. Piano Quartet Movement In A Minor

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Mahler himself called his Sixth Symphony the "Tragic," and described it as posing "riddles" accessible only to those who had "digested" his earlier symphonies. As always, he made extensive alterations not only during rehearsals but also after the publication of the score and the 1906 premiere, producing two authentic versions; the existence of a third is in dispute. He revised the orchestration, including the number of the famous hammer strokes, and changed the sequence of the two middle movements, causing still unresolved confusion and dissention. This recording opts for the sequence of the first version and the instrumentation of the second.

Cast in four movements, the Symphony is purely orchestral and relatively traditional; however, its initial vehemence and ultimate bleak despair contrast starkly with Mahler's successful personal and professional life at the time. His wife later explained this with dubious autobiographical and symbolic interpretations involving herself, their children, even premonitions about Mahler's own health and the still undreamed of future European catastrophes. She also described it as his most personal, deeply felt work, recalling that they both wept when he first played it for her. Indeed, its emotional immediacy, its extreme mood swings--from driving violence to melting lyricism, from playfulness to bitter parody, from triumph to hopelessness--seem to mirror Mahler's mercurial, tormented personality.

The performance is austere, intense, and expansive, but never sentimental, lush, or really warm, even in the profoundly moving Andante. The climaxes soar ecstatically, the Scherzo is diabolical, the opening menacing, the trills and hammer blows terrifying. The single-movement Piano Quartet, a student work, is mostly of historical interest, thematically, harmonically and texturally so primitive that the metamorphosis to Mahler's "real" style appears quite miraculous. The orchestra's fine principals with Eschenbach as pianist do their imaginative best, adding dynamics, rubatos, drama, and excitement. --Edith Eisler

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! Nov. 21 2006
By B. Guerrero - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I would never conduct Mahler six the way Eschenbach does here. Yet, I too am totally won over by this recording. Perhaps the lion's share of the credit has to go to Philly. When Eschenbach deviates from the score - or my ideas of how the piece should go - he does so in a most unarming and convincing manner. Let me put this another way: Michael Tilson Thomas also finds new and unusual places to suddenly slow down, or do a big piece of rubato (the Alma theme). Yet, MTT's decisions strike me as being mostly thoughtless and annoying. With Eschenbach, I find myself saying, "oh, that's different, but it works". I also think that Philly is darn near ideal for this piece; more "Slavic" sounding than "Austro-Germanic". That means hefty low strings; strong low brass; solid percussion; piercing trumpets; uniformly dark sounding horns; piercing clarinets; loud bassoons, etc. And then there's that incredible violin section, which - to my ears, anyway - seems to have lost little since with their salad days with Eugene Ormandy.

As far as I'm concerned, Gramophone magazine can keep the Abbado/Berlin Mahler 6. Berlin is like an overgrown chamber orchestra with a great violin section. Philly is like a big, fat symphony orchestra with a great violin section. Choose your weapon wisely - consider the piece. Also, to be fair, the sonics are simply better here.
26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Despite artistic liberties, one of the best around Dec 10 2006
By MartinP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
In this recording, Eschenbach repeatedly has his players do things that I tend to find irksome. He's one of those conductors who seem to think Mahler's "nicht eilen" means "slow down", whereas it only means "stick to the tempo, for as an experienced conductor I, Mahler, know very well that orchestra's tend to rush in passages like this". He also doesn't mind ignoring tempo indications altogether, or instigating tempo changes several bars before the point where the score has them. Every second transition is preceded by a huge ritenuto, some in the first movement so quirky that I got the feeling the score was missing a beat. Yet halfway through I was ready to throw the score aside altogether and just wallow in all the beauty, power, emotion and sheer musicality. In spite of (or maybe even thanks to?) the liberties they take, Eschenbach and the Philadelphia O plumb the depths of this music in a way few others have achieved, least of all the recent, much overrated Abbado. You need to turn up the volume to benefit from the full effect of this recording, and even then the first movement may strike you as just a tad too genteel. But it's "reculer pour mieux sautir". The Scherzo is raw and dark and its lonely, desolate ending is deeply affecting. The Andante gets simply the most beautiful performance in any of the 11 recordings I know of this work, Chailly, Barbirolli, Bernstein, Karajan, and MTT among them. It acquires a prayerlike quality and a deep sense of mystery, the strings even contriving to realize Mahler's peculiar request to play "ohne Ausdruck" (without expression) - and that's a compliment. The sprawling finale is firmly held together, and combines waves of increasing power with passages of quiet repose that for once sound as more than an excuse to give the players a moments rest. The placement and sonorities of bells and cowbells are perfectly judged. Throughout, the sounds emanating from the orchestra are breathtakingly beautiful, and fortunately the recording allows the listener to hear almost everything.

The recording is indeed a wonder in itself. It was made in the excellent Verizon Hall - live in concert, as occasional stiffled coughs soon make clear. Yet it leaves almost nothing to be desired. The bass is rich and present, tuba and bass drum coming through spectacularly. And the hammer, well, I seriously wonder whether it didn't damage my headphones; it may not sound like the stroke of an ax, as Mahler imagined (more like a bomb exploding), but its effect is overwhelming. There is bite to the brass, the horns are well-defined, and the woodwinds are not covered up by the strings the way they are in Berlin. The timpani are a bit boomy, and harp, xylophone and celesta sound rather distant, but that's about as much as there is to complain. Except of course for the applause that is left in at the end. Why?? Here's a piece where after the final chord all you want is silence (indeed, no applause would be the greatest token of true appreciation in concert, even), but no: the hollow pizzicato has barely sounded out or there are the hollering bravo's. Weren't these people listening at all? Inevitable in a concert hall, I suppose, but why leave this in on CD? It's completely pointless. Nevertheless: if you're looking for a top-choice modern Mahler 6, buy this disc (and get the rarely recorded early Piano Quartet as a bonus!); just make sure you have your remote handy towards the end.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Mahler from a surprise orchestra Oct. 13 2006
By P. Weber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This is an absolutely stunning Mahler 6. Quite simply: great sound, great playing and a winning interpretation by a conductor who understands Mahler. This certainly beats recent accounts by Thomas and Abaddo. All four movements have ideal tempos, though Eschenbach is very flexible and knows where to let it breath. Although the andante is liesurely in tempo it is incredibly moving and never drags. The hammer blows in IV are like a bomb blast. Too often we have to settle for poor sound or a dull interpretation, but here we have a great American orchestra and a top recording team. Don't miss it!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars intense and wonderfully played Feb. 3 2008
By Kostas A. Lavdas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Another disc in Ondine's refreshing series with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Christoph Eschenbach. Mahler's Sixth, possibly because of its classicism in comparison to most of her sisters, lends herself to readings that would otherwise appear un-Mahlerian. Among US orchestras it is the Cleveland Orchestra that has given us two superb examples that, in spite of their differences, can be considered as falling within this broad `classicist/structural' approach. Cleveland did a very fine job first with Georg Szell (CBS) and, later, with Christoph von Dohnanyi (Decca).

The new recording by Philadelphia /Eschenbach takes a different route. It is certainly neither structural nor austere in its approach. It might be better compared with more impulsive performances, being a journey of discovery rather than a structural rendering. In the first movement, after some passages of great intensity, Eschenbach tends to over-sentimentalize the so-called Alma theme. The Andante gets an intimate and wonderfully played reading. The Finale is, I think, one of the most convincing on record. Still, in the Finale's opening bars one misses the tremendous aesthetic effect achieved by the Berlin Philharmonic in Karajan's recording (DG). All said, Eschenbach's is a reading that might appeal to most contemporary Mahler audiences.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Ride Through the Intricacies of Mahler's 6th Jan. 22 2007
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Christoph Eschenbach is a master at clarifying lines some conductors find confusing in the big complex symphonies, so it is no wonder that he is able to present us with a performance of Mahler's very personal Symphony No. 6 that stands with the most solid and yet transparent. And despite recent grumblings about the Philadelphia Orchestra's regard under his direction, this recording is one of the very finest of this symphony. Eschenbach's decisions about the order of the movements (staying with the original Mahler idea of placing the Scherzo as the second movement instead of the alternative - Mahler induced - placement of the Andante as the second movement, the latter being a preference by this listener) are sound when the entire symphony is heard.

The amazing aspect of this recording is the return of the lush strings sound so long associated with the 'Philadelphia sound' and Eschenbach makes fine use of this mellow burnished tone to set off the many introductions of extraneous instruments such as the cowbells etc. The overall approach to the symphony sounds more in favor of the raw climaxes than the contemplative moments, but in the grand sweep of the work this just makes sense.

As an added bonus on this 2 CD set is the Piano Quartet Movement In A Minor which though a student work of Mahler's it none the less displays his penchant for folk lines and extended development of themes that were to mark his work in coming years. Eschenbach and members of the Orchestra give a fine performance of the work. The only problem with its inclusion is the placement after the last movement of the symphony, a time when the emotions are big, making the Quartet seem less powerful. But that is a personal view and for this listener it is, in the end, a welcome addition to the Mahler library. Grady Harp, January 07

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