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This is my favourite Mahler 6. The hammer-blows in the 4th movement are spine tingling! I owned the CD version first and then ordered this SACD. The biggest puzzlement here (which led me to almost give a 4 star rating) was that while the CD version is on a single disc, the SACD for no apparent reason, is issued on two! I, in the end, selected a 5 star rating based on the most important thing of all, the glorious music!. Though this symphony ends in utter despair, it is so moving, human and uplifting as a whole.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Wow, what an incredible experience.July 14 2005
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This is easily my favorite recording of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. I just got my copy of this (in SACD), and listened to it in the surround sound. I have waited for this since Abbado left the BPO after making all his other great Mahler recordings with them. I have to say that this not only lived up to my (quite lofty) expectations, but also exceeded them. Abbado's masterly is without question. His choice to record the 2nd and 3rd movements in reverse order (as Mahler did during the world premiere, and the following Vienna premiere, both with himself as conductor) work great. He also only has two hammer blows, as he used the revised version in which Mahler took out the third hammer blow due to his superstitions about it. Speaking of the hammer blows, I can't imagine Mahler wouldn't have thought these to be most effective. He wanted a dull non-metallic thud. When the recording got to the first hammer blow, I felt it in my stomach, it was that effective. I'm not sure what Mahler specified in the revised version, but in the original, it was supposed to be three hammer blows, which each a little less, as the hero was felled with each hit. In Abbado's recording, the second hit seems more powerful than the first.
The playing is both incredibly beautiful at moments, and intensely exciting in others. Abbado grabs you from the first moments of the march, and doesn't let you go until that thunderous thud at the very end.
I used to say the Tilson Thomas/SFS recording was my favorite, but I have to say that Abbado's recording has blown even that away.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Sixth That Demands To Be HeardFeb. 12 2007
David A. Wend
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My interest in the symphonies of Gustav Mahler started just prior to his becoming popular and my first recording of the Sixth was from Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This new recording of the Sixth by Claudio Abbado was named as Record of the Year (for 2006) as well as Best Orchestral Recording. In fact, in their Award issue Gramophone declared that the Berlin Philharmonic played like gods. Well, with this kind of hype I was interested in hearing what it was all about.
The original Gramophone review by David Gutman of this recording, published back in September 2005, commented that the interpretation of Mahler's Sixth symphony has become more refined since the first recording by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Donald Mitchell points out in the booklet for this recording that Mahler, particularly in the Finale, comes close, at times, to the new Expressionist language adopted by Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg. So, Abbado's new recording aims toward more transparency in the music. The symphony is played with a deep intensity and attention to the details of the score; the hammer blows in the final movement (with the third omitted) are exceptionally clear. The third movement is placed before the Finale in this recording which has been the order adopted by Simon Rattle and Barbirolli. The placement of the Scherzo as the third movement was the original order that Mahler chose for the premiere but later changed the order placing the movement second. However, Mahler never seemed satisfied with the order of the inner movements. Donald Mitchell finds that the Scherzo is a good lead-in to the A minor Finale, echoing the march of the first movement and preparing us for the culmination of the "Dance of Death" in this pivotal movement.
The Berlin Philharmonic may not play like gods but this certainly is among the best recordings of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. The textures of the music are beautifully conveyed and if one has reservations, like David Gutman mentioned in his review, they go away on careful listening. Even if you already have a beloved recording of the Sixth you will want to hear the new Abbado for the excellent performance by the Berlin Philharmonic; it will join my Solti and Bernstein recordings.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
sounds better on this sacd/cd hybrid setDec 31 2006
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I've decided to modify my review for this, in the SACD hybrid version.
In all honesty, I don't own an SACD player. Yet, even in plain, old two-channel stereo, hybrid CD's from Universal (DG; Philips; Decca) often times sound better. I assume that's because of the DSD upgrade - a prerequisite for SACD; so I'm told. Anyway, the hybrid version does help in clarifying some of the muddy textures that I complained about in its regular CD format (I still gave it four stars - five here).
What I've also discovered - which may really bother some foks - is that this particular performance works far better when played back in S/A order. In fact, I chose to re-burn the hybrid version back on to a single disc, but in S/A order instead. As a result, I really like my new Franken-bbado. The end of the first movement and the beginning of the scherzo are so evenly matched in terms of tempi, that the two movements make for a complete, unified Part 1. I also discovered that I wasn't nearly so bothered by Abbado's rather hasty and lightweight treatment of the first "Alpine" episode in the slow movement - located about six minutes in - when hearing the slow movement after the scherzo. And, as always, the beginning of the finale is far more shocking when following the peaceful Eb resolution of the slow movement (the finale starts on C, and settles upon A-minor at the tuba solo). Is this a case of Abbado not having adjusted his interpretation enough when switching to A/S (his earlier performances were all in S/A order)? I'll leave that for you to ponder. Regardless, in the hybrid version, this performance rates five stars.
10 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Bloodless, lifeless, pointlessFeb. 24 2007
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Abbado's previous recording of the Sixth (from Chicago) was decent but unmemorable. This one is a disaster.
First off, he uses Mahler's revision of the work, which places the scherzo third instead of second. Nobody knows why Mahler made the change - most speculation is that he was afraid of what the nasty critics of his time would say about how similar the openings of the first movement and the scherzo were - but it's hard to deny that the change makes narrative and tonal hash out of the piece. Let's see: we start in A minor and end in A major with all problems seemingly solved (or at least at bay), then we go off to the other end of the tonal world into E flat for introspection and nostalgia (because we're unhappy and need healing because of those solved problems?) then we go back to square one for the A minor scherzo and, when that winds up to a cry of horror and winds down to a whimper, we go back to the other end of the tonal world to start the nightmare finale in C minor (a hemisphere away from A minor but right next to the E flat major that the slow movement ends in). Right.
Second, the performance is bland to the point of wimpiness. There is no edge that Abbado doesn't bevel into smoothness, no harshness that he doesn't underplay or coat with plush. The epic struggles of the first movement are reduced to genteel conversation, the deep mysticism of the pastoral interludes becomes background music for pleasant chatter. The triumph at the end of the movement is subdued because there isn't much to triumph over. The slow movement sounds more lost than normal in second place because Abbado mutes its pain and aching nostalgia. The scherzo sounds almost jaunty, not demented or sinister. The finale works up some steam about 2/3 of the way through, but by then it's hard to care. The ending, which can be devastating in other hands, is matter of fact here.
If you want to be scorched by this symphony, try to find the Mitropoulos Cologne recording, most recently out on the now-vanished (thanks EMI!) Great Conductors of the 20th Century series. More available alternatives include Tennstedt, Karajan, Bernstein (Vienna, not the wretchedly played and crude NY), Dohnanyi, the slow but intense Barbirolli Philharmonia, and the poorly recorded but fiery Neumann Leipzig (not his Czech Phil remake). But almost any recording would be an improvement over this sorry issue.