Seemingly made of "unobtanium." But worth the wait.
Bob Zeidler | Charlton, MA United States | 08/17/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gustav Mahler's "middle" symphonies, the 5th through the 7th, are said to be full of "structural problems" and to be "tough nuts to crack." Of these three, the 6th is likely the most difficult for the newcomer to Mahler, largely because of its "Tragic" subtext and its almost manic shifts from sublime beauty to bleak sadness to shocking, ringing tragedy and back again. More than any other Mahler symphony, this is the one which most requires conductorial and performance expertise almost without equal if it is to be properly realized. Maestro Zander possesses this interpretational expertise in spades.
Leonard Bernstein's DGG recording, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, had been my preferred version, by a very comfortable margin, over several other Mahler 6th's in my library. But a few years back, word started to filter out regarding this Zander performance as being "the one to get." It was largely in the form of "street talk" in various music journals and magazines, with a sentence dropped here, a paragraph there. An on-line review of this performance, by Tony Duggan, a Mahler specialist, confirmed for me that this recording was a "must get."
This is an incredible, absolutely stunning, performance. Zander's Boston Philharmonic, thoroughly professional in its capabilities, is nonetheless an interesting mix of young professionals, students (largely from the New England Conservatory), and advanced amateurs. They perform within an inch of their lives here, and the results show it. Recorded at a live performance at Jordan Hall in Boston, the sound is spectacular, and the audience reaction at the conclusion of the performance spoke clearly to its effect: Totally emotionally drained, with nearly a full minute of silence after the final dying-out minor brass chord that ends the work before they could recover their equilibrium and summon their energies for the applause.
Written during one of the happiest periods of Mahler's life, this symphony is nonetheless "Tragic" in all its implications. As performed by Zander, it is not at all a "tough nut to crack" and no structural problems whatsoever are in evidence. Clearly, it was Mahler's intent, prophetic as it turned out to be, to compose a work which in every way was the intentional antithesis of Richard Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben," and he succeeded beyond measure, writing music of great and melting beauty mixed with incredible tragedy, at a skill level not evident in his earlier work. Mahler's Hero, unlike Strauss's, is mortally felled in the final movement of this work, with the cumulative effect of three hammer blows, which Zander renders with shock and intensity beyond measure, and the final brass chord, which had earlier been a "major-minor seal" which fell from major to minor throughout the work, failing to do so, being the minor alone, again with an intensity I've never experienced. The prophecy of the three hammer blows, to Mahler, was realized later, with the death of his older daughter, the diagnosis of his heart disease, and with the loss of his directorship of the Vienna Opera. His wife and helpmeet, Alma, was to later state that he should never have tempted fate so determinedly, in what did in fact turn out to be a series of tragic self-fulfilling prophesies unseeable and unknowable at the time of the symphony's composition.
Maestro Zander is presently undertaking a full trajectory of the Mahler symphonies on the Telarc label. His upcoming performance of the Mahler 6th is undoubtedly worth the wait. But, for you Mahler "compleatists," let me make this quite plain: If you call yourself a Mahlerite, this earlier performance belongs in your library as well.