Mahler: Symphony No. 6

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: LSO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0038
Having ascribed shortfalls in Jansons’s earlier instalments of Mahler ‘live’ to the clean but lightweight efforts of the Oslo Philharmonic, I have to confess to a certain disappointment that the same applies here with the LSO, as well as to an inevitable regret that this orchestra’s bestselling CD label wasn’t around for its earlier Mahler heyday with Abbado, Bernstein (who still offers the most extreme and harrowing live Sixth with the Vienna Philharmonic) and even just occasionally Tilson Thomas. Jansons works hard on detail, and many quiet textures are beautifully lit; but invariably he holds back instead of pushing forward to catastrophe – with one frustrating exception at the Andante’s climax, when the melodic outpouring least needs to be hurried. Surely he’s the first conductor on disc since Rattle to follow Mahler’s later thoughts on placing this great slow movement second rather than third; whatever you feel about the order – and I don’t think the reversal of Andante and scherzo holds a candle to the original argument – the opening march movement hasn’t sweated nearly enough to deserve so easy a retreat.

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Oddly enough it’s the scherzo, now third in the running order, which offers the greatest character, admittedly as fantasy-ballet rather than grim cartoon. The marches are firmly sprung, too, but in order to underline the bitterness of ultimate defeat, their lyric opponents need to let in more air – and so does the Barbican recording. Stephen Johnson’s booklet note persuasively argues the tragic aspect as Mahler following Nietzsche’s rallying-cry for ‘the artistic conquest of the terrible’; that only makes us all the hungrier for a more liberating interpretation. David Nice