Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Capriccio
WORKS: Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Netherlands PO/Hartmut Haenchen
CATALOGUE NO: 10 643 DDD
Tackling a Mahler symphony, it seems, is now the best way for a second-rank orchestra to present its credentials on CD. The success story here belongs to the Florida Philharmonic, a brightly streamlined ensemble which has clearly worked hard on detail with music director James Judd. The end results of this Mahler One, though, can veer disconcertingly between mannerism and anonymity. Judd presses the first-movement wayfarer’s song uncomfortably hard as he speeds it on its way, and archly toys with the Scherzo’s trio Bernstein-style; elsewhere, interpretation yields to careful articulation (especially in the finale’s storms, very calculated). Yet it never sounds less than handsome, even when one has to strain to catch some of the pianissimos. Blumine, the movement Mahler discarded before publication, is especially welcome for the ineffably cool, poised tones of principal trumpeter Jeffrey Kaye.

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The trumpets of the Netherlands Philharmonic are excellent too – when you can hear them; their worst misdemeanour is a rather important missing entry from No. 6’s first movement (bar 190). That and the uncertain timpanist apart, these performances – recorded live in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam – are accurate enough to let the listener observe the workings of Mahler’s vast machines free of interpretative ‘insights’: no consolation, I fear, for prospective buyers, who will want something more bracing. The recording for the Sixth certainly does nothing to sharpen the rather blunt orchestral sound, though many of the stranger orchestral combinations in No. 7 do make an impact in closer, more vivid perspective. David Nice