Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: London Philharmonic/Klaus Tennstedt
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 55294 2 DDD
There is a paradoxical sense in which these final documents of Tennstedt’s Mahler work better on disc than they did live. In the concert hall, his massive emphases always bludgeoned this particular listener into insensibility long before the closing stages; at home, you can at least take time out between, say, this Sixth Symphony’s heart-breakingly extended slow movement and a gruesomely emphatic finale (at 33:33 mins outstripping even Bernstein’s rather more electrifying Vienna performance). It’s also possible to observe, with a clearer head, how Tennstedt’s art of the mighty ritardando almost demolishes the luminous fluency of the Seventh’s second ‘Night-Music’, only to work larger-than-life wonders on the most outrageously brilliant closing ceremonials ever recorded.

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So why not be content with Tennstedt’s earlier studio performances? Because he takes more risks (and even more time) in front of an audience; the idyllic breathing-spaces of both first movements do have infinitely more atmosphere – making up, in the Sixth, for a grotesquely stolid treatment of the ‘Alma’ theme – and the players seem undaunted by his superhuman demands (low brass and flute contributions are unflaggingly striking). Unfortunately the glassy string sound and bass-heavy climaxes of the Sixth are a drawback; the engineers seem to have got it exactly right for the Seventh, 18 months later.

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If only it were possibly to have the Tennstedt sound without the more extreme Tennstedt mannerisms. Unfortunately there’s little more than mannerism to Segerstam’s Resurrection. The best one can say is that he, too, faithfully sustains the quieter orchestral atmospheres, but elsewhere, the Danish strings are unequal to his special brand of tension writ large (nor do they make a sufficiently rich plea for Mahler’s straightforward string-orchestra arrangement of Beethoven’s Op. 95 String Quartet). The Chorus’s very unmysterious announcement of the Resurrection Hymn is a disappointment for which even the spectacularly engineered final blaze cannot atone. David Nice