DG is continuing its prestigious series of Mahler symphonies with Claudio Abbado.
Mahler's Sixth is the symphony most praised by Mahlerians and a test for the listener's hi-fi! Sometimes titled the 'Tragic', it opens with a funeral march followed by music of energetic lyricism which Mahler described as a representation of his young wife.
The quick changes from extremely lyrical to deeply dramatic and violent music are a special feature of this symphony, as well as the unusual instrumentation and effects Mahler employed, including offstage cowbells, very deep bells, and in the last movement devastating 'hammer blows' intended to sound like an axe striking into wood.
The great Italian maestro’s return to his former Berlin orchestra in June of last year was obviously a momentous occasion — I wonder if the choice of Mahler’s Sixth was influenced by the fact that it is a Rattle speciality? — and this superlative account of the most tragic of the composer’s symphonies makes it clear that the Berliners were overjoyed to have him back. The conductor’s grave illness during the final years of his Berlin regime make this an apt choice, however: Abbado, like Mahler in this symphony, has stared into the jaws of death. There is defiant anger in the whiplash gait of the allegro energico opening march and mordant sardonic humour in the dance-of-death scherzo. These movements are separated by the serene and beautiful andante. Abbado brings a chamber music-like intimacy to the symphony’s great moments of repose, while the thrillingly sustained finale finds Abbado and the Berlin orchestra at the peak of their powers, devastating in the three “blows of fate” that punctuate this music of tragic conflict. No serious Mahlerian will want to miss this outstanding live performance.
Five stars, Times
Claudio Abbado’s return to Berlin last year was clearly a major event and, rather provocatively, he conducted music that is generally considered something of a speciality of his successor in the Berlin job, Simon Rattle. The BPO played for their old music director like people possessed, and in this of all symphonies such fervour reaps huge benefits. Mahler’s love song to his wife Alma has rarely sounded this glorious.
GUSTAV MAHLER Symphony No.6
Berliner Philharmoniker/ Claudio Abbado
1. I. Allegro Energico, Ma Non Troppo Heftig, Aber Markig
2. II. Andante Moderato
3. III. Scharzo. Wuchtig
4. IV. Finale. Allegro Moderato/Allegro Energico