Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Piano Quartet

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Piano Quartet
PERFORMER: The Philadelphia Orchestra/ChristophEschenbach (piano); David Kim (violin),Choon-Jin Chang (viola), Efe Baltacigil(cello)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE1084-5D
Sonically, there’s plenty to admire

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in this new recording, taken from

live performances in Philadelphia.

In the development section of the

first movement, for example, the

massed brass gleam menacingly, like

a row of soldiers’ bayonets reflecting

the sunlight; the woodwind solos in

the central movements are at once

gracious and deeply expressive; and,

throughout, the strings play with

beautiful, singing tone. Actually,

a little grit and gruffness from the

strings would have been welcome

at times, as would a tighter grip

from Eschenbach.

In general, the conductor’s tempos

are well chosen, but at various key

moments, he lets the line go slack.

Before each of the two hammer

blows, for instance, there’s none of

the relentless screwing up of tension

one feels in Tilson Thomas’s

excellent interpretation.

More troubling still is

Eschenbach’s disregard for many

of the composer’s carefully notated

tempo adjustments. A mere two

minutes into the symphony, where

Mahler advises the tempo be

maintained, Eschenbach inexplicably

pulls back. The cumulative result

of all this pushing and pulling is to

rob the score of its potency and epic

sweep. It’s a pity, too, that Ondine

opted to include applause; even

if this performance isn’t nearly as

devastating as it should be, cheers at

the end sound inappropriate.

To travel deeper into the dark heart of this troubling score, try

Tilson Thomas’ unflinching

account. Ondine’s engineering

is marginally more focused and

atmospheric, but both versions

pack quite a punch in their SACD

surround sound formats. Mahler’s

early Piano Quartet makes an odd

companion here, but in truth is

compellingly performed.

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Andrew Farach-Colton