Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 6
Jonathan Nott, cond; Bamberg SO
TUDOR 7191 (SACD: 80:34)
This appears to be the final volume in Jonathan Nott’s much-praised Mahler series. With Mahler recordings in danger of becoming as saturated as Beethoven symphony cycles, it has to be said that Nott has carved a distinctive niche, with performances that do not pander to the Mahler clichés of despair, rage, and chaos. From what I have dipped into in the past, Nott argues a tidy, linear-minded case for Mahler, coaxing fine
playing from his Bamberg forces. With the Sixth, not only does Nott have to contend with the usual big guns in Mahler interpretation, but also tackle that superimposed heading of “Tragic.” His approach is to studiously avoid so vulgar a tag, and in keeping this Symphony consistent with the rest of his Mahler series, he creates an utterly new view of this bombastic, violent work. I have never heard a performance like it. Even Pierre Boulez’s autopsy-like recording doesn’t have such clarity.
Personally I loved it, although it often feels bizarrely like Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony, such is the bustling wind playing and overall geniality. The military tread of the opening is taken at quite a lick, urgent but light-footed, very Classical in feel, and it becomes a very logical step into a briskly accented Scherzo placed, as is preferred by most conductors now, second. In the third movement, Nott does loosen the reins a little, allowing that romantic theme to flow out naturally, and there is enough freedom here not to dismiss such a sober reading as clinical. The Finale is logical, colorful, and yet doesn’t lack weight. So long as one doesn’t mind the rather recessed hammer blows, it is impossible not to hear all the layers afresh, with orchestral textures clean and lithe. Sound is excellent, and although I am personally ambivalent about SACD, it is nice to see Tudor still makes the effort. Notes are superb, with a thoroughly detailed symphonic analysis from Nott.
This is certainly not the only way I would want my Mahler, but among modern versions, Nott’s stands out. We have recently had Antonio Pappano’s battle-scarred but compelling version on EMI, and Gergiev’s colorful but shallow LSO Live reading, both live and in full-bodied sound, but unable to topple the greats from the past, such as Klaus Tennstedt’s live version with the London Philharmonic; utterly personal in approach, it is like prodding an open wound (but in a good way) and lurches towards an utterly devastating Finale. For a more disciplined but equally terrifying ride in modern sound, I tend to favor Solti’s Chicago recording, similarly paced to Nott, but with a real accent on the drama and schizophrenic nature of this Symphony. He makes sense of the disjointed Finale like no other. But even though not a first choice, I do think there is room for Nott’s lack of histrionics in any Mahler collection. It all depends on what you think of playing Mahler tidily. I found it utterly compelling; a tragedy acted out without any interpretative ego or point making getting in the way. This is certainly not a Mahler Six to slit one’s wrists to. This is Mahler after intensive psychotherapy.
FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 6 in A minor "Tragic" by Gustav Mahler
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1904/1906; Austria
Venue: Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Konzerthalle Bamb
Length: 80 Minutes 32 Secs.
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