ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Symphony No. 8
WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5573
Unlike three other great interpreters who recorded Mahler’s prime-of-life tragedy twice – Bernstein, Haitink and exhausting Tennstedt – Abbado has tightened up his act second time around. The marches now snap more ferociously than they did 20 years ago in his Chicago Symphony performance (also on DG). The unremitting focus with which the Berlin players present them turns what is usually the most redundant-seeming processional – between the finale’s first and second hammer blows – into the most revelatory. In many ways this is vintage Indian-summer Abbado: iridescent in its truthfully-recorded textures, lithely phrased and letting the multitudinous emotional climaxes speak without applied emotion.
Forward-moving intensity does mean the occasional smudged ensemble, with no sign of patching (badly needed as a precipitate first horn panics violins and flutes, track 1, 13:15). And I wish Abbado had gone with gut feeling rather than the latest research in placing scherzo after andante this time – surely a mistake, for reasons which reader Eric Shanes broadly outlined in the May issue. Yet taken individually, the emotional worlds of the first three movements are profiled with perfect clarity, while the marshalling of all the finale’s seething cohorts raises everything to five-star level. This is surely, though, the only Mahler symphony in which I’d recommend Tilson Thomas over Abbado – also live, just a notch more apocalyptic, with a licence to pull out all the stops that the Sixth uniquely grants. David Nice