Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 6,
Benjamin Zander, cond; Philharmonia O
TELARC 60586 (3 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 198:40)
Zander analyzes Mahler’s Sixth
The Classical Hall of Fame contains recordings that we critics have judged to be worthy of perpetual enshrinement, and thus
it would seem an odd place to air one’s purely personal preferences. That being said, however, it is also true that we first receive sensory experience, and it is through this personal portal that we then extrapolate and objectify, so I begin this induction with some personal observations.
The Mahler Sixth was the symphony which convinced me that this was a composer who spoke to me personally—the relationship was cemented with the Ninth, but it was through the Sixth that contact was made. As a non-musician (in the classical sense, anyway), my relationship with this music began with the CBS LPs conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Later recordings by Rafael Kubelík, Georg Solti, and Herbert von Karajan further deepened my love of the piece. When Simon Rattle’s EMI recording was issued—I hadn’t yet heard the Barbirolli or Mitropoulos recordings—I had the opportunity to explore the vexed issue of the inner movements, a controversy which continues to this day, claims of an “authorized version” notwithstanding.
Benjamin Zander recorded the Sixth with his wonderful Boston Philharmonic, a recording that was praised by the cognoscenti but was hampered by limited availability and has now been deleted (though one can obtain it at Boston Philharmonic concerts). With the release of this recording (and its mates in the vital Telarc series), however, even mainstream media finally awoke to the power of Zander’s deep understanding of Mahler. To make the recording even more appealing, the package includes a full-length discussion disc, containing Zander’s insights in his inimitable style. In addition, this recording contains not one but three performances: with the availability on disc 2 of both versions of the finale—the original version, with three hammer strokes and attendant orchestration, and the revised version—the listener can program the original version with Scherzo-Andante and three hammer strokes, the revised version of Andante-Scherzo and two hammer strokes, or that of the Critical Edition. All of this at a single-SACD price too.
This set might qualify, then, as a merely intriguing package—something like Gilbert Kaplan’s Mahler Second. What elevates this performance into the rarified ranks of the truly exceptional are the insight and commitment to be heard throughout the symphony. In the first movement, Zander has modified his tempo from the BPO version: now we hear a more deliberately paced march, which is grimly implacable but just as menacing—Zander has transcended the simplistic concept of
as pure speed. “Alma” is imbued with a joyous rush unmatched in any other performance. The “music from far away” in the first movement reaches us from Mahler’s beloved mountains, as does the entire Andante, which has seldom sounded this passionate. Either of the finales will elicit an appreciation for Mahler’s unique ability to combine late-Romanticism with early-Expressionism; more important, Zander communicates the sense of utter despair in the face of overwhelming odds. This is perhaps the most depressing music ever composed, and yet, one comes away exhilarated—that is the definition of great art, and it is the feeling I get from this performance.
Telarc’s SACD production sets this performance apart from many other very good ones—the Eschenbach/Philadelphia on Ondine and Tilson Thomas/San Francisco come to mind. The astoundingly detailed recorded sound gives us all of Mahler’s superb orchestration—the hammer strokes have never sounded quite this good before—but it is the Philharmonia that produces them and Zander’s genius that makes those details available to the engineers. Not since Bernstein has Mahler had such a powerful advocate, and this is his finest performance to date.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
This selection is a Hybrid Multichannel Super Audio CD. The Stereo Hybrid SACD program can be played on any standard compact disc player. The DSD Surround and Stereo programs require an SACD player for playback. It is also available in standard CD format.
This selection contains an analysis of this symphony by the conductor Benjamin Zander. Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 6 in A minor "Tragic" by Gustav Mahler
Written: 1904/1906; Austria
Date of Recording: 05/2001
Venue: Watford Colosseum, Watford, England
Length: 87 Minutes 32 Secs.
Notes: Ver: 1904
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