Mahler: Symphony No. 6

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Accentus Music
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Symphony No. 6
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; bonus film ‘My Sixth will propound riddles’: a panel discussion with Riccardo Chailly and Rheinhold Kubik
PERFORMER: Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 20268

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Sometimes it’s difficult not to feel bashed over the head in the wrong way by the march-mania of Mahler’s Sixth, but Riccardo Chailly succeeds in gripping us throughout. The Gewandhaus Orchestra’s once wiry sound is as focused as ever, but pushed to the limits of its sophisticated ability. Brass are bright and undercut any lushness, crowned by a superb first trumpeter, while the principal horn creates beauties in an Andante which otherwise may not be as luminous as that by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra under the peerless late Claudio Abbado (whose EuroArts DVD is still first choice). Under Chailly, though, the music burgeons at the climax where too many conductors rush.

The Andante comes second, almost inevitably now, though I still don’t believe Mahler’s last-minute reversal of the inner movements should be absolute and I’ll always prefer the scherzo as companion-piece to the opening march for many compelling reasons. In the DVD extras Chailly argues, in fragments of a rather declamatory accompanying discussion, that scholarly ‘proof’ liberates him to take the scherzo at a manic – but always clear – speed; it works brilliantly. As does the finale, complete with Leipzig-made wooden mallet and sounding board for the two blows of fate.

As for presentation, I’m weirdly compelled by the latest artwork of Neo Rauch with his city of dreadful night, but I question a whole page devoted to musicologist Reinhold Kubik, though admittedly he appears in the DVD extras in the panel discussion with Chailly. Meanwhile Paul Smaczny’s expert direction – only showing the cowbells once when they’re loud, as in Lucerne – spotlights so many fine players one wishes all their names had been listed instead: what a team!

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David Nice