Mahler/Henze

COMPOSERS: Mahler/Henze
LABELS: RCO Live (dist. Harmonia Mundi)
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler/Henze
WORKS: Symphony no. 6
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 06001 (hybrid CD/SACD)
You will know whether this is the sort of Mahler Six you want within seconds; the staccato attack of lower strings in the opening bars is far too light and under-energised for me. Even so, this performance pieced together from three Concertgebouw concerts late last summer offers many unforgettable textures and sonorities. It improves both on Jansons’ earlier LSO Live recording – saddled with dry Barbican acoustics – and on this team’s Proms appearance, where the vastness of the Albert Hall further diffused the Concertgebouw’s inherently soft-grained sound. Here the woodwind especially know how to use the luminous support of Amsterdam’s wonderful concert hall, softly breaking the heart in the sad rejoinders of an Andante which doesn’t feel nearly so rushed as the climax as it did in Jansons’ LSO performance; the final fade on muted horns, too, is uniquely magical.

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As before, though, the movement’s controversial positioning feels wrong when the opening Allegro has hardly broken a sweat. There’s an elegance to the grotesque-cum-naïve scherzo which carries through to the march momentum of the finale: again, great sounds and stunning preparation are no substitute for the lack of Bernstein-style intensity throughout. As Jansons’ view of the symphony isn’t quite brisk enough to fit on a single CD, an atmospheric postlude follows in Henze’s Sebastian im Traum, paying impressionistic homage to the dreamlike Salzburg of poet Georg Trakl. Jansons’s hard work, and a slightly fuller sound picture here, just about carry the flow between nostalgia and panic; but Henze’s lack of perceptible structure is something his great paradigms, Mahler and Berg, would never have considered.

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David Nice