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Mahler: Symphony no.6

Claudio Abbado , Berliner Philharmoniker , Gustav Mahler Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1. I. Allegro Energico, Ma Non Troppo Heftig, Aber Markig
2. II. Andante Moderato
3. III. Scharzo. Wuchtig
4. IV. Finale. Allegro Moderato/Allegro Energico
5. Applause

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5.0 out of 5 stars Idéale Jan. 7 2010
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Entre la version racée de Karajan dont la qualité d'enregistrement n'est pas la meilleure, et la fabuleuse exposition de Zander qui gache le premier mouvement par un tempo trop lent, la 6ième de Abbado représente l'équilibre. Un magnifique équilibre!
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Optimism amidst tragedy by Abbado Nov. 3 2005
By Larry VanDeSande - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Claudio Abbado is the dean of European conductor and is in his third generation of Mahler symphony recordings. They have been praised since his first renditions three decades back. This recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, where Abbado was music director for more than a decade after Karajan's death, is taken from a concert in 2004.

Everything in this version of his Mahler "Tragic" symphony builds on his reputation as a Mahler expert that understands both the written score and message of the music. In this case Abbado's message is clearly optimistic, not tragic.

Always one to adjust tempo to meet his needs, Abbado does so in the opening march where, at 11:15, he begins a slowdown that lasts about 30 seconds until the main theme carries it away. He repeats this technique at 19:10 with the same later result. This is Abbado as we have known him since his benchmark recordings of symphonies by Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn and Brahms in the 1970s.

Abbado switches the second and third movements -- and asks for your forgiveness for doing that in his notes -- in a pattern conductors have returned to in recent years. As Abbado suggests in his notes, Mahler approved this format in the first practices for the symphony. A recent recording under the baton of Charles Mackerras circulated by BBC Music Magazine also used the adagio as the second movement and the scherzo number three.

Abbado's adagio is exceptionally passionate without being overwrought, like what we hear in Tilson Thomas's recording of the Sixth Symphony. Following closely to the pattern developed in Karajan's famous recording, Abbado sees the adagio as the heart of this music with the finale being its soul.

In the finale Abbado emphasizes the inherent search for optimism. "(T)ime and time again the music rises to huge climaxes in pursuit of triumph," Abbado says in the notes, "only to encournter defeat in the famous hammer-blows." Abbado's version includes three hammer-blows, the final blow coming at the end of the symphony and signifying the death of Mahler's hero.

Yet, all throughtout, the conductor moves cautiously through the tragic soul of the music by emphasizing the brighter moments and the optimism the hero sees before being felled by timpani hammer-blows (I've heard them delivered by a hammer on anvil in recordings and performances.) While Abbado ends the symphony with the traditional third hammer-blow, it does little to extinguish the light of optimism that existed during most of the 30-minute span.

The recording, made in the Philharmonie in Berlin, is truthful and honest with good depth but short on brilliance. You hear everything as you would in a good seat in the concert hall but without the brilliance you hear on the best recordings of this music.

I think Abbado's version compares very will with the Grammy winner recorded by Tilson Thomas. Abbado has plenty of passion for the music without MTT's echt-Bernstein overindulgence. The recording pales beside the brilliant BBC recording for Mackerras, another concert recording from 2002. Other recordings I've heard of this music -- straightforward deliveries by Abravanel and Neumann and Karajan's two-CD version that is beloved by British critics including Gramophone magazine and the Penguin Guide -- do not seem to put everything together as well as this one.

I prefer the sound and urgency of the Mackerras recording and will likely listen to this one when I want an optimistic perspective on the Mahler "Tragic" symphony.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Abbado or Karajan in the Mahler Sixth? Jan. 2 2006
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
The Berlin Phil. competes with itself in two masterful readings of the Mahler Sixth, one with Karajan (studio, 1978), the other with Abbado a quarter century later (live, 2004). My copy of the Karajan gives no recording data, but I imagine it was made in the Philharmonie, like Abbado's. It's fascinating to cmpare the two, not that most Mahler devotees won't buy both.

Orchestra: As evidenced here, Abbado has brought about a transformation of the BPO into a lighter, more spontaneous- soudning ensemble that abandons Karajan's famously plush string sonority. In the Sixth Karajan's orchestra sounds more forceful, they dig into phrases, and the overall impression is one of tremendous power. There's no doubt, however, that both incarnations are supremely virtuosic.

Sonics: Karajan's Sixth is miked very closely-- right next to the conductor, more or less--which gives the sound tremendous impact, while at the same time there is a good deal of hall reverberation, so we don't feel suffocated. Abbado's recorded sound is mid-hall but very detailed and natural. Distance reduces the thunder of the great climaxes compared to the earlier set, yet in compensation the tension isn't so nerve-wracking.

Tempos: Surprisingly, in every movement but the Andante both conductors choose the same tempos within a few seconds. The fact that Abbado's Andante takes 12 min. as opposed to Karajan's 17 min. makes the difference between fitting the symphony on one CD instead of two. In the first movement's opening march, both conductors follow Mahler's direction of Allegro energico--in fact they are a minute faster than Bernstein's quick 23 min. with the Vienna Phil. in his famous DG recording.

Interpretation: Karajan is altogether more intense, searches deeper, and more starkly underlines the shockwaves given off by the score. Abbado opens almost serenely and keeps an even flow, never leaning into the anguished upheavels--his fast Andante is a carefree song compared to Karajan's poignant elegy building deliberately until it reaches an impassioned outburst. Neither tries for the ultimate anguish of Bernstein's finale, and it's here that Abbado outdoes Karajan. Having saved himself for this climactic eruption, he gives us more contrast with the rest of the symphony.

Overall, this doesn't come down to a consumer choice. These two sets provide a great musical experience, each in its own right. But I would guess that Karajan, having lasted on top for almost thirty years, will continue to dominate a while longer.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Please do not feed the romantics... March 24 2006
By ewomack - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Romanticism pervades classical music. When the lives of composers go bad, people often look to their works for "signs" of tragedy, or proof that the music arose out of suffering or foreboding. Mozart's early death and Beethoven's deafness supply heaping doses of romanticism upon their music, whether related to it or not.

As Mahler became fashionable in the later twentieth century (coinciding with a reacceptance of German culture from the smolderings of World War II), his "Tragic" symphony again awoke that old passionate romanticism so prevalent in classical music. Mahler himself referred to this symphony as "Tragic" and soon after he completed the piece his personal life took a turn for the worse. So listeners began to look for "signs" of these tragedies in Mahler's 1905 symphony. His wife Alma helped spur such views, which remain somewhat controversial. Some critics find her unreliable while others consider her word inviolable. And many people take such romanticism at face value due to the cultural maxim that artists suffer for their art.

Regardless, Mahler wrote one of his best symphonies and Abbado and company perform it amazingly well on this CD. Apart from the first and fourth, the sixth probably stands as Mahler's most accessible symphony for newcomers. Not that it doesn't have difficulties, but it sticks closer to the classic form. It utilizes the traditional four movements. Its themes and recapitulations really stick out (much like a Beethoven symphony). And it has a sudden and shocking ending (that will surprise you even when you know it's coming). Not only that, it contains some of Mahler's best music: The trudging oscillating marches at the beginning of the Allegro and the Scherzo; The Allegro's justly famous and breathtakingly swooping "Alma Theme"; the fiery ending complete with giant hammer blows; the amazingly beautiful Andante respite. In many ways this symphony "makes sense" even to a new listener. That it ends tragically remains stultifyingly obvious. And its musical analogy of a life marching forth proudly towards glory and eventually lapsing into parody and tragedy probably also slaps many listeners in the face. In the same manner as his first and his fifth, Mahler expressed his ideas completely in music (unlike his second, third, and fourth which contained sung lyrics to emphasize the theme). So people need only to hear this symphony from beginning to end to "undertsand" it. It utilizes "tragedy" in the Greek sense, and, in that spirit, Mahler may have simply been trying to produce a cathartic purge in his audience. In other words, he produced a "Tragic" symphony as opposed to a "Comedic" one.

This recording, in opposition to tradition, places the slow Andante before the pulsating Scherzo and removes the third and final hammer blow from the finale. Mahler apparently had trouble making up his mind on the order, but the original publication put the Scherzo second and included all three hammer blows. The "correct" version remains controversial, since Mahler continued to adjust the symphony throughout his life.

Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker put on a tremendous show. They definitely earn the applause they receive at the end. Though probably not the definitive sixth, this recording can probably sit comfortably aside some of the best renditions of this famous work. Put it on and sate the inner romantic.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars sound is slightly better on SACD/CD hybrid issue Dec 31 2006
By B. Guerrero - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Abbado's Berlin remake of the Mahler 6th is Grammophone magazine's 2006 "record of the year". I wish I could be THAT enthusiastic. It is quite good, with a nice, natural "flow" from start to finish. In fact, there's little that can be faulted. Abbado performs the inner movements in andante/scherzo order, which is now the only way sanctioned by the Mahler P.C. possee (funny how nobody had a problem with it being performed scherzo/andante for four decades or so). Yet, a couple of minor oddities do exist. I like how he trims the slow movement (andante moderato) down to 14 minutes here. However, he also kind of short changes a wonderful passage that's located about six minutes into the andante, where the unison horns lead us up into the Austrian highlands, immediately followed by the cowbells first onstage entrance; which, in turn, is accompanied by a naive sounding solo trumpet. Compare the identical passage to Boulez/Vienna Phil., and you'll instantly know which orchestra is located closer to those Alps. Later on, as the loud unison horns lead us on to the slow movement's climactic passage, Mahler again sounds the cowbells - onstage. They're hard to detect here, but practically bury the horns on the recent Eschenbach/Philadelphia M6 from Ondine. I prefer Abbado's pacing, but Eshenbach nails these key signposts better. Also at that climactic passage, instead of putting all of Philly's energies into the top melodic line, Eschenbach makes certain that Mahler's rich, turn-of-the-century harmonies are very clearly defined.

The 30 minute finale goes off without a hitch either. Yet, Abbado fails to scare us much during that weird passage that's located between the two hammer strokes - the one that I affectionately dub, "the wild ride of the headless horsemen across the scared battle plains of Flounders". I'm adding much hyperbole here, but compare the very same passage to Eschenbach/Philly - yet again. Eschenbach makes the start of this section as weird and scarry as humanly possible. He takes it slow - "boom; smash; bop; wham!" - and he really brings out the percussion. Much has been made of Abbado's two hammerstrokes. Yet, a couple of odd things happen with these as well. On the first one, Abbado doubles it with the tam-tam (large gong); something that's not in any of the printed versions. On the second stroke, the bass drum is actually louder than the hammer mechanism itself (usually a large wooden mallet struck on a large wooden box or chopping block). Frankly, these minor points don't mean so much, in and of themselves. Mahler basically just wanted a non-metallic "thud" sound.

No, I think what bothers me most is something that's difficult to define. The timbre of the orchestra itself - at least on this recording - is really rather monochromatic. Everything is sort of a dark, chocolate-y sonority. The woodwinds are there, but there's no pungency or brilliance to their sound. As a result, they hardly cut through Mahler's dense textures. It's as though every instrument may as well be a bassoon. The low brass is often times too light in weight, especially the tuba. At the loudest passages, Mahler is transformed into having that sort of Brahmsian sound; where everything sounds dark and muddy, yet bright and screechy - all at the same time. It's difficult to describe, but far easier to demonstate: just turn to Eschenbach/Philadelphia. With Philly, it's as though one or two other dimensions have suddenly been added. The low strings and high strings are just as strong as those in Berlin. Yet, there's more pungency and timbral distinction from the winds. The Philly low brass is much stronger, and the trumpets have a more piercing quality. It's as though Philly were the Czech Phil. or St. Petersburg Phil. on steroids. Berlin comes across as a very good, enlarged German chamber orchestra - I don't know how else to describe the difference. Granted, some of this has to do with the difference in recording companies, and the difference in acoustics. But some of this definitely has something to do with the differences in tone production. The kind of sound that the Berlin Phil. makes is near ideal for Brahms and Richard Strauss. I'm not so sure that it's anywhere near ideal for Mahler 6. Why do I say that?

Well, let's examine the piece itself. In a sense, the sixth is Mahler's most German and, at the same time, ANTI-German work. It's really kind of a protest piece - a protest against the ever increasing militaristic direction that the German speaking world was taking at that time. As such, the symphony is predominately in minor, and the textures tend to be very dense in many, many spots (Richard Strauss, of all people, allegedly remarked that the sixth had been over-orchestrated). Low strings tend to march and growl a lot, as do the tuba and bassoons. When the high strings aren't playing a beautiful melody, they're usually doing something to just add to the general "screech" level. Horns tend to be sort of dark and muddy sounding instruments when dwelling in their middle register, which they do a lot of here. It's really only the woowinds and trumpets that provide much needed relief from everthing that is either marching, growling, or schreeching on top. I submit that you're not getting enough of that "relief" when hearing the Berlin Phil. in this music. It's not a huge issue, as they're obviously playing the piece, but you do immediately notice the difference when you switch too any number of other recordings. I've simply been using Eschenbach/Philadelphia as a reference point.

In the final analysis, there really isn't any shortage of great Mahler 6 recordings. You could really almost choose one by what your favorite orchestra is. Truth be told, if it weren't for the horrible, metallic "ping" hammerstrokes, my favorite Mahler 6 of any would be Dohnanyi/Cleveland (Decca). But for a single disc version, I recommend Boulez/Vienna Phil. (you can always switch the inner movements, if that's a big issue). For a two-disc version, I like Eschenbach/Philly or Jansons/Concertgebouw (low level recording - needs to be turned way up!).
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous recording by a truly great conductor June 20 2005
By RaabH - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
When I saw that this new recording of Mahler's Sixth was available I questioned whether I needed yet another for my collection. Eventually, though, since so much of Abbado's work lately has been quite special, my curiosity got the best of me.

I'm very glad it did. This immediately wins a place amongst my favorite performances of this symphony, alongside the ones that I've found most rewarding in the past: Chailly, Bernstein (DG), and Barbirolli (the latter indeed for something completely different!)

Abbado's tempos seem perfectly judged. This is no "elder statesman's" view of the work -- the rhythms are robust and strong while the lyrical episodes are achingly beautiful without getting pulled out of shape. Overriding Abbado's interpretation is a sense of certainty and forward thrust. As episodic as this work can sound in less capable hands, with Abbado the changes in mood sound inevitable and true. He knows what he wants to say and the BPO is right in there for him, delivering in full.

Like nearly every conductor who has recorded this symphony, Abbado goes for two hammer blows in the final movement. Their impact is visceral, certainly delivering the dreadful thwack of fate that Mahler intended. Having heard the first one, I came to anticipate the second with a thrilling sense of trepidation. For a moment I wished that Abbado had gone against Mahler's wishes and included the third.

Abbado places the Andante movement second and the Scherzo third. I prefer the movements in the opposite order, but of course with CD technology anyone who agrees with me on that is easily accommodated.

The sound quality on the stereo version is excellent -- not too glossy or over-engineered, allowing instrumental detail to emerge naturally. I can't comment on the SACD, but if I ever get suitable equipment then this performance will be amongst the first in that format that I'll acquire.

For a beginning Mahler collector this is certainly a wonderful Sixth, but for a life-long devotee this recording will bring many great rewards as well. Fellow Mahler fans need not hesitate, even if other Sixths crowd your shelves.
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