Mahler: Symphony No. 6

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LABELS: Berlin Classics
WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Saarbrücken RSO/Günther Herbig
Coming down from the incandescent plateau of Abbado’s latest Mahler performances into the minor woods of Herbig and the Saarbrücken orchestra was never going to be easy, but by any standards this is hardly a front-rank Sixth. It starts with a soft-edged marching bass and soon reveals the first of many slight orchestral confusions over Herbig’s idiosyncratic tempo changes as he slows down for the transitional chorale (why, when Mahler instructs ‘always the same speed’, is a mystery). Add to that the fact that this must be one of the few live Mahler Sixths of recent years not to feature the exposition repeat, and you may feel like giving up minutes in to the performance.


That, however, would be to miss several rare pleasures. One is the balance between the modest string section and woodwind, allowing doublings to sound as Mahler intended and preserving clear counterpoint throughout; Herbig also puts the violins to good use in the closing stages of the Andante and a chillingly remote treatment of the misty mountain shape which looms at the beginning and throughout a well-paced finale. He offers an atmospheric realisation of twilight zones, especially the lugubrious waltz of the scherzo, the G minor second theme of the slow movement superbly introduced by the cor anglais and the murk out of which the finale’s marching emerges (featuring an equally distinguished tuba player). None of this may persuade you to buy the CD while giants like Bernstein and Tilson Thomas roam the earth, but it does go some way to explaining why the audience so gratefully bravos a decent enough live performance. David Nice