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Mahler: Symphony No 6, Lieder / Haitink, Norman, Berlin Po

Release Date: 12/01/2009 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 426257   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Jessye Norman
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 43 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Haitink's Sixth remains an imposing essay in the classical tragic style—symphonic in the strictest sense, purposeful, single-minded and somehow inevitable in its pacing. All roads still lead to Mahler's last and most desperate bid for survival some 22'48" into the finale: one massively courageous statement from the proud Berlin brass signals the final assault, and from here until the very last gasp from bass drum and pizzicato strings, Haitink and his Berliners are men possessed. High anxiety is not, generally speaking, a hallmark of this eminently sane reading—not anyway in the neurotic Bernstein or Tennstedt sense—but Haitink is adamant that in these turbulent pages lies the crux, not just of the finale, but the entire symphony. And Read more he is right, of course.

The emotion, somewhat contained elsewhere, spills over in gales of wild string figuration and overreaching brass (startling details like the howling trill of bass tuba come through with alarming clarity). This much is thrilling, an accumulation of considerable physical power (Haitink keeps the movement hurtling forward) halted only by the infamous hammer—and of course it almost goes without saying that the spectacular Berlin trumpets and trombones positively savage their stark two-part counterpoint in the wake of these fatalistic blows. Yet for all Haitink's symphonic rigour and determination (his performance of this movement generates far more heat and impetus than Rattle/EMI, I have to say), it's that underlying sense of instability, of unpredictability, that I miss from his reading. Passages like the extended fugal section (very decisive) en route to the second great crisis sound almost too precise, characterized, if you like, by a sense of detachment. It's a performance to inspire confidence, respect, and often considerable excitement, but it isn't going to break any hearts.

Haitink still favours an impulsive tempo for the first movement's allegro energico—only marginally slower, in fact, than Bernstein's relentless goose-step which displays the same keenlyarticulated resilience on his second, DG recording listed above. In the main, Haitink's Berliners would seem to encourage a tougher streak in him than did the Concertgebouw for his 1970 recording: Alma's Theme (the vaulting second subject) doesn't exactly lift the spirits but reticent it is not, with full-throated horns forceful rather than exultant in their stirring descant. I'm still drawn to a more dogged basic pulse for this movement, but at least Haitink underlines the shocking juxtaposition of first movement and Scherzo by mirroring the tempo, and consequently the mood and colour. Would that Bernstein had adopted the same speed for his first movement as for his Scherzo—a great lumbering dance of death ("a Landler danced by ogres"); would that Rattle had contemplated the reverse (though his reluctance to accept the Mahler Society's 1963 Critical Edition—Scherzo second, Andante third—somewhat negates the point; see, incidentally, the note in February, page 1470). Both are more watchfully characterized than by Haitink who misses elements of the Scherzo's grotesquerie with his nononsense rubato in the trios: for instance, the hesitant little Lufipause for oboe in the first phrase of the first trio. A small detail, perhaps, but Haitink ignores it, being loath (it would seem) to indulge Mahler's 'nervous ticks'. The score is full of them, of course: the excitable stringendos, the sudden forestallings, the moments of stasis—all moments where exaggeration is of the essence. RattV, for instance, makes great play of those rapt departures—at the heart of the first movement (bass clarinet nuzzling among tremolando strings and cow bells), and throughout the Andante moderato where his rarefied atmospheres convey in their solitude an extraordinary pathos. Haitink, at a free-flowing tempo virtually identical to his 1970 account, is sensitive, articulate, unaffected (as ever), and gloriously played (I have in mind Mahler's surging climax, Berlin strings always with more to give, the harmonic pull magnificently centred on sustained unisons in the horns), but wanting in that elusive inner-light—a quality so hard to put into words but so easy to recognize. Bernstein has it in abundance, and his DG recording (with the VPO) remains for me (notwithstanding that somewhat brusque, overpressed first movement) incomparable. But if you like your Mahler straiter-laced and with fewer of the idiosyncrasies, then Haitink has force and magnificence of sonority and a commanding classical strength that cannot be underestimated. He is outstandingly well recorded.

-- Gramophone [4/1991]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 6 in A minor "Tragic" by Gustav Mahler
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1904/1906; Austria 
Date of Recording: 04/1989 
Venue:  Berlin 
Length: 83 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Jessye Norman (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Bernard Haitink
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1896; Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/1989 
Venue:  Berlin 
Length: 19 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Language: German 

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