"I have had a long history of disappointment with Mahler 6 recordings, and am naturally suspicious whenever someone raves to me about how such-and-such recording is the "MOST AMAZING EVER!" (Zander, Tennedstet, Karajan and Solti have all failed me in this regard). So I was of course skeptical of the raves for Bernstein's DG outing with the VPO, which sounded so familiar, especially because I was not thrilled with other Bernstein late recordings (such as his Brahms 4).Well, something miraculous must have happened the night this baby was recorded, because what we have here is without question the most stupendous recording of the Mahler 6 I've ever heard. Forget those who wring their wrists over "the intent of the composer" (as if they knew!) and those who complain of Bernstein's "hysterical" approach. The 6th is perfectly suited to emotionally electrified interpretations, and here Bernstein gives the performance of his life. Or death may be more suitable a word, considering the ultimate fate of the symphony.The first movement is brisker than most, but Bernstein gives it such weight that it never once feels rushed. What we hear is the double-time march step of some horrible marching army--one can almost envision jack-booted soldiers tramping through the streets. This frenetic pace continues in the second movement, which in Bernstein's hands is a somewhat frightening whirlwind of a dance--utterly demonic.The third movement is sublimely beautiful--those who accuse Bernstein of maudlin excess are simply wrong. He doesn't linger, but rather perfectly accents the aching nature of what is Mahler's most gorgeous adagio. Purists not welcome (who wants those boors around, anyway?).The crowning acheivement, however, is the grandiose finale. Coming in at a whopping 33 minutes, one almost wishes it were given its own disc entirely (don't get me wrong--Hampson's renditions of the Kindertotenleider are superb--but I'd like a bit more chance to recover from the 6th!). The opening chord crash is intense and frightening, and we're then treated to a sonic spectacle as shattering as it is musically perfect. Bernstein doesn't conduct the VPO--he drives it forward according to his will, sculpting a visceral masterpiece. By the final collapse into death, the listener is exhausted and drained.So it may not be the exact intentions of Mahler in performance, but it is unquestionably so in its effect. Don't let snoody purists tell you otherwise--this simply is THE Mahler 6 recording."
The clear winner of the two Bernstein Sixths
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 11/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Despite the shibboleth that Bernstein radically changed as a conductor in his old age, many of his Mahler interpretations stayed basically the same between the first cycle from NY in the Sixties and the one twenty years later from Europe. That's not the case here, however. There are very big differences between his 1967 reading--a bargain on a single mid-price Sony CD, and his Vienna 1988 version, on two full-priced CDs with the Kindertotenlieder as a filler.
Sound: The NY Phil. is caught in totally clear sonics from Avery Fisher Hall. Inner detail is nicely captured, and the orchestral balance is natural. But we are in a different league with DG's digital recording from a live performance in Vienna's Musikverein, where the sonics have incredible urgency and impact.
Orchestra: The NY Phil. plays beautifully (although calling them the world's Mahler orchestra, as the Amazon reviewer does, is silly). Yet the Vienna Phil., even in a live setting, play with incomparable accuracy, power, sweetness, and style.
Interpretation: Bernstein in NY is fast enough in the first movement to be called brisk, which leaves no breathing room for the immense inner detail Mahler provides. Bernstein slows down by two min. in Vienna, which is all to the good. He also slows down by two min. in the Schrezo and the Andante--played in that order. They are also more expressive given a bit more leisure. But it's the last movement, which went from being one of the fastest on CD at 28 min. to the absolute slowest at 33 min., where the greatest improvement occurs. Here Bernstein creates a complete wowrld, full of magical color and haunting details. It becomes almost a symphony in itself--no music lover should pass up the experience of hearing it. By comparison the whole of Bernstein's earlier effort is eclipsed; it is even a bit literal, contrary to those reviewers who call it excessive.
In sum, Bernstein's Vienna Sixth is one of a kind, a must buy. If you want a single disc version, the recent Abbado on DG from Berlin is more exciting, brilliantly played, and imaginative than the NY reading from Bernstein. As to the Kindertotenlieder filler, also from Vienna in 1988, the young Thomas Hampson can't rival his female counterparts--Christa Ludwig, Janet Baker and Kathleen Ferrier--but he has far more warmth and emotional impact than Fischer-Dieskau, his closest rival among the men. Bernstein conducts extremely well, but he did the same in his two earlier versions with Jennie Tourel and Janet Baker. All three are worth owning and treasuring."
Can't help but come back to it...
Santa Fe Listener | 12/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first got to know Mahler's symphonies through Bernstein's recordings (both his old and his new cycles). Nowadays I tend to distance myself from Bernstein's Mahler simply because I think that Bernstein's interpretations distort Mahler to a fault (do we really need more tempo changes in Mahler when Mahler himself was very specific about this in his scores?). However, I just keep on coming back to this Mahler Sixth. It's just an overwhelming experience, and for once Bernstein's fervour benefits the music. The outer movements are powerful beyond words, and the slow movement is so painfully beautiful without being sentimentalized by Bernstein. The hammer strokes are literally terrifying, and so is the final A minor chord. Bernstein's other Mahler recordings have faded in my eyes, but this Sixth and his Third are the two exceptions. For many reasons, Bernstein was just perfect for these two symphonies. No one else will do for Mahler's Sixth!"
An immensly powerful performance
Kenji Fujishima | 02/19/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic give a crushing and amazing performance of Mahler's dark masterpiece on this live Deutsche Grammophon recording. The first two movements have a powerful intesity which is matched by the beauty of the Andante. Yet it is the Finale that truly shows the greatness of Bernstein's interpretation. In the heroic moments, Bernstein creates ecstatic triumph which inevitably falls into devastating tragedy. After the explosive A minor chord and the pitiless pizzicato A at the end of the movement, we seem as though we've been smashed by a Greyhound Bus, which is exactly how the symphony should be. Possibly my absolute favorite recording in my collection. A winner in every way."
Powerful "Tragic," in a way only Bernstein could conduct
Kenji Fujishima | East Brunswick, NJ USA | 06/01/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Now I won't claim to be an expert on Gustav Mahler's controversial Sixth Symphony. I haven't heard a wide range of interpretations of the work (yet, at least), and I haven't looked at the score. All I know is that this Leonard Bernstein-led recording of the work was my introduction to this weird and wonderful piece, and while I have heard a few other recordings of it in a dramatically different style (Boulez's DG recording, for instance, dramatically more objective and unsentimental, not to mention with the same Vienna Philharmonic), this will always have a special place in my experience of this piece. Sure, it's arguably too melodramatic for Mahler's most classically structured symphony, but that was Bernstein's way with all Mahler symphonies, and once again you're swept up by the sheer electricity and emotionality of the performance (perhaps helped out by the fact that this was recorded during live concerts). The Vienna Philharmonic play gloriously here, and the cumulative impact is shattering. Like Bernstein's reading of Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony, it'll be hard to listen to other readings of Mahler's Sixth objectively after listening to this imposing one."