Mahler: Symphony No. 6

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WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich/David Zinman
CATALOGUE NO: 88697 36465 2


Following very much the pattern of earlier releases in his complete cycle, David Zinman seems intent on avoiding any element of bombast and sensationalism. Aided by a superbly vivid SACD recording and the rather lean string sound of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, he opts to illuminate the complex web of contrapuntal lines that straddle each movement while at the same time underlining the composer’s profound relationship to his symphonic predecessors.

Thus the scherzo, performed here after the slow movement, has an impressive Brucknerian gravitas rather than the more manic or grotesque urgency favoured by some other interpreters. Likewise, the preceding Andante moderato is notable for its flowing Schubertian lyricism, though in the opening paragraph the approach might strike some listeners as being a tad cool and detached.

In the opening movement Zinman establishes a propulsive military swagger that nonetheless allows sufficient latitude for a passionate delivery of the Alma theme. Later on, however, after the visionary moment of stillness where the cowbells are heard in the distance, he seems unable to regain momentum quite so convincingly.

Fortunately no such problem affects the Finale. Indeed, this is perhaps the most impressive movement of all, Zinman driving the musical argument forward to its catastrophic conclusion without ever allowing the tension to sag.    


A compelling alternative to the ‘objective’ Mahler as epitomised by Zinman would be Iván Fischer’s forthright but subtly nuanced performance on SACD with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. For those who prefer their Mahler to be more heart on the sleeve, Bernstein (DG) or Michael Tilson Thomas (Avie) offer an even more graphically terrifying account of this shattering masterpiece. Erik Levi