Mahler: Symphony No.6

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: CSO Resound
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No.6
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: CSOR 901804

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This is a very beautiful Mahler Sixth – with all the strengths and weaknesses that implies. Rarely have the refinement and richness of Mahler’s orchestral palette been so lovingly demonstrated. Bernard Haitink also gives the music plenty of space to breathe, in contrast to the tsunami impact of Iván Fischer’s recent single-disc version (on Channel). The ‘alpine’ episodes in the first and last movements, and a great deal of the Andante slow movement (placed third) are like huge vistas slowly opened out – lovely, despite the slightly dry recorded sound. But it’s a little like enjoying an alpine view after travelling up in a comfortable air-conditioned coach rather than after an exhilarating long climb. Not that Haitink’s ascent completely lacks intensity, nor does he smooth out the rough edges – in fact he highlights one or two accents I hadn’t noticed before. Yet the impression of suavity remains in too many passages: in most of the driven episodes, and in the demonic sarcasm of the Scherzo. And like Gergiev in his recent LSO Live account, Haitink substitutes pizzicato low strings for the timpani in the Scherzo’s final bars. Why? I can’t find any authorisation for it and it’s no improvement. If you must hae the Scherzo placed second, try George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra (Sony). But my favourite remians Mariss Jansons – much of what Haitink offers there, and plenty more.