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Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Abbado

Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Abbado

Deutsche Grammophon  477 568-4 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Symphony No. 6

Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - May 20, 2005

This recording confirms Claudio Abbado’s reputation as one of the greatest of all Mahler interpreters.

This is a live recording made at performances in June 2004 when Abbado returned to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic for the first time since his departure in 2002. His total mastery of the score is evident throughout all four movements, and those who have heard the Berlin Phil. in concert will not be surprised by the astounding fire, accuracy and sensitivity of their playing.

Interestingly, Abbado chooses to reverse the usual (published score) order of the middle two movements and play them in the order Mahler used at the first performance i.e. Andante followed by Scherzo. Simon Rattle did the same in his EMI recording with the CBSO. Argument still rages as to what Mahler really wanted. It is, perhaps, a pity that DGG did not put the first three movements on Disc 1 (like the SFS version), that would have allowed one to programme one’s own preferred order.

The opening of the first movement is taken at a slightly more steady tempo than Michael Tilson Thomas adopts on his recording with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Tilson Thomas, yet, overall, the timing of this movement is shorter than MTT possibly due to Abbado’s constant forward momentum and refusal to linger too much over certain passages.

The Andante, one of Mahler’s most beautiful slow movements, steals in magically and is characterised by the sweetest of strings and some wonderful horn and woodwind solos. I have never heard it done better.

The grotesqueries of the Scherzo are very well characterised and Abbado’s masterful control of the Finale’s complexities puts the seal on a truly great performance.

The PCM (48kHz/24 bit) recording is not in the same class of sonic realism as that given to MTT. The sound is somewhat diffuse, but there is a pleasing amount of reverberation and space. It does not suffer from the excessively close-miking which spoils many ‘live’ recordings. The use of the surround channels seems almost too discreet and I found that, on this occasion, it added little to the 2-channel experience.

When the work reaches its tragic final bars there is silence followed by audience applause and cheering. DGG have programmed this as a separate (24s) track, a solution that should please everybody.

Copyright © 2005 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by John Broggio - April 5, 2006

Even without the bonus of hearing both the standard and original orchestrations of the finale as heard on Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Zander, this is musically the best version on SACD I have heard to date. Channel Classics' superbly recorded version with BFO/Fischer is better sonically however (Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Fischer) and has the advantage of being a single disc release.

I must first lay my cards on the table and declare an interest in this recording, in that I was lucky enough to wangle tickets to the third and final performance used to construct this concert recording. This, whilst possibly colouring my judgement from a performance aspect in the view of some people, does allow me to comment on the sonic accuracy (or otherwise) of the DG recording, to which I shall return later.

Throughout the symphony, Abbado judges the pace nigh on perfectly and encourages great flair and depth of feeling from his old orchestra (several stars of which now moonlight in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra). In the first movement, the march is strict and unrelenting with very little in the way of consciously changing direction (there is but it does not break the line). The "Alma/love" theme is introduced most tenderly but there is no descent into vulgarity here. As the movement concludes, the triumph (rightly) rings hollow.

Abbado places the Andante before the Scherzo - and this took me a lot of getting used to this "topsy-turvy" view but I must say that it is gradually growing upon me. At a flowing tempo (far removed from Karajan's epic view), this is idyllic countryside pasture that have storm clouds gathering around. The icy chill and remoteness in places is very hard not to be moved by and the BPO capture the varying textures beautifully. As the clouds gather and break up the strings play with real passion, as do the wind and brass sections - this is a real coming together of musical minds. Here, more than elsewhere perhaps, Abbado and the BPO show exactly why they have become feted as Mahler interpreters par excellence - at no time does the characterisation detract from the overall line - a feat that no-one else comes close to matching today.

Sadly DG chose to split the performance at this point so that for those who cannot accept Abbado's thoughts on movement placing (or just want to try it the other way around) it means either lumping it or jumping up and down changing discs - not entirely satisfactory. The Scherzo itself is another matter entirely and the reason why I think this positioning is growing on me is that after all the tensions of the first movement and the relative calm of the Andante, there is then a grotesque build up to a cataclysmic finale, which in sheer unrelenting terror and despair is not matched by breaking up the Scherzo & Finale. Throughout the BPO and Abbado deliver a performance that is akin to being in an aural nightmare from which there is no respite - even though there is (far) worse to come.

That "worse" is the nearly 30 minutes of despair entitled a Finale - a finale to hope one might think. This is one of Mahler's greatest symphonic movements and took me a long time to get head around it as a teenager. Here, the BPO play as though they have sold their collective soul to the devil himself such is the precise fury that they bring to bear on this epic march into the mental abyss of Mahler's thoughts. Abbado paces the reading supremely well, gradually & almost imperceptibly ratcheting up the underlying pulse. Very chilling but exhilarating altogether. Unlike in many readings, this culminates in a very chilling coda at which you are grateful for the final orchestral tutti to deliver the musical coup de grace.

Throughout the playing is stupendous - never have the multi-faceted demands of this score been so clearly and accurately delineated at the same time as being married to tremendous musical feeling and insight; the BPO and Abbado cannot be too highly praised for this achievement. [At the concluding funereal coda, the tuba is slightly off-key compared to the trombones but that, if anything, adds to the disturbed and disturbing mood.]

The recording, fortunately, has to be one of DG's best efforts in the Philharmonie. Whilst it is not as clear as Channel Classics in Budapest, every detail shines through (and not by over-use of spot-miking). The surround clears things up considerably compared to the stereo layer. The audience remains quiet throughout until the separate (which I know is important to many) applause track.

Very highly recommended for fans of Mahler, Abbado and the BPO. The tragic aspect to this release is that DG never followed up with the Mahler 4 recorded the following year in SACD.

(Purchased)

Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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