Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Piano Hybrid SACD
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|1. I. Allegro Energico, Ma Non Troppo. Heftig, Aber Markig|
|2. II. Scherzo|
|3. III. Andante Moderato|
|1. IV. Finale (Allegro Moderato)|
|2. Piano Quartet Movement In A Minor|
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Piano Quartet
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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.
Eschenbach falls firmly into the solid second rank of conductors, and although he is adept at Mahler, not a single thing happens here that is very distinctive, much less eye-opening. The mood is even throughout, the execution first-rate, the ideas non-existent. At times, as in the opening of the Scherzo, he drags the tempo and loses tension. The first movement's emotional extremes are evened out, much as Mariss Jansons did in his two recordings. But we live in a world where reviewers hype anything and everything, so this quite ordinary performance hasn't lacked for extravagant admiration. At Amazon the five-star brigade forms a solid phalanx.
Reading reviews is always a game of "who do you trust?" I can't induce anyone to trust me over the five-star generals, but when one of them claims that the Philadelphians play the ravishing Andante more beautifully than any of eleven rivals, including the Berlin Phil. under Karajan, my response is skeptical. I hear quite the opposite, but then, who do you trust? In this case, Eschenbach's lack of intensity in the Andante blots out beauty of tone. He ambles aimlessly through the opening of the finale, too. I was continually reminded that good enough isn't good enough in the Mahler Sixth. This is a daunting work, and only the greatest conductors plumb it to the depths. Eschenbach isn't at that level.