Mahler: Symphony No.6

WORKS: Symphony No.6
PERFORMER: London SO/Valery Gergiev
This is a fine Mahler Six, but it’s up against some extremely stiff competition. In recent years Claudio Abbado (DG), Mariss Jansons (LSO Live) and Iván Fischer (Channel Classics) have all brought out exceptionally convincing live recordings – interestingly all, like


this newcomer, with the Scherzo placed third (which, for a while at least, Mahler preferred). Gergiev’s version has the advantage over Abbado and Jansons of being short enough to fit on one disc. But that doesn’t mean it’s unrelentingly hard‑driven, even if the phrasing can be a tad severe: Jansons and Abbado certainly feel more supple and fluid in comparison. The sense of tragic momentum in this recording is compelling enough most of the time. But it isn’t as awe-inspiringly consistent as the Fischer version, which can leave you with the feeling that you’ve been picked up by a tsunami and deposited on a desolate shore 80 nerve-tingling minutes later. Gergiev is sterner, often exhilarating but also comparatively short on Mahlerian pathos. His Sixth is more in the nature of a grim monument than an intensely personal drama. There’s greater breadth of colour and expression in the Jansons, which remains my favourite modern version by a very tiny margin. Perhaps the touch of hardness in the Gergiev’s recorded sound doesn’t help (though the Jansons has the same acoustic). And there’s one decision I don’t understand: Gergiev substitutes pizzicato double basses for the familiar timpani strokes at the end of the Scherzo. Did Mahler really authorize this? If so, he surely weakened the effect.