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Mahler: Symphony No. 6

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Mahler: Symphony No. 6 + Mahler: Symphony No. 9 in D major (Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen)
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Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. i. Allegro energico, ma non troppoVarious artists24:00Album Only
Listen  2. ii. Scherzo. WuchtigVarious artists13:10Album Only
Listen  3. iii. AndanteVarious artists14:06Album Only
Listen  4. iv. Finale. Allegro moderato - Allegro energicoVarious artists29:15Album Only

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Mahler 6, Salonen, London Philharmonia: Stands Tall on its own terms 16 Nov 2011
By drdanfee - Published on
Format: Audio CD
If a listener has auditioned the Mahler ninth symphony with this same orchestra under this same conductor, then we already know pretty much what to expect. Or, do we?

The framework or approach that was stunningly on display in the prior Mahler release is also more or less, continued here in the sixth symphony. As with the ninth, so with this sixth: the Philharmonia of London is simply giving itself to the music, in top form, including a familiar musical flood of virtuoso chops.

As in the ninth, I have little doubt that some listeners will register disappointment at Salonen not drawing more heat from this big-sized music, along with letting the music just run wild according to its own deserts. However, as I was not among those critics for the ninth, so I am still not a joiner. I think that Salonen and the band simply unfold an intense vision all their own, perhaps Mahler as modernist, just as much as Mahler as Late Romantic. Thanks to the bottomless virtuosity of the orchestra players in all departments from first note to last - all caught live in concert, by the amazing way - we get a chance to get involved with this symphony in a new way.

One of my benchmark keepers on the fav shelves is Jascha Horenstein leading the Danish Radio Orchestra - not this sort of virtuoso band, I admit. To my ears the Horenstein reading is nearly indispensable for its abilities to reveal a deep Mahlerian world of suffering and survival, despite the band not being in, say, the world's top five ensembles. The iconic chord, more often than not published by the brass (with support from the woodwinds) really chills the grieving soul in Horenstein's reading. Salonen and company are at first appearance, more restrained, more in control than overwhelmed by the break through of unavoidable loss that seems to be indicated by the simple shift from major chord to minor chord.

But I kept listening. And as the symphony unfolds, I became more and more and more involved ... more and more and more persuaded. The composer is laying out this music on the grandest scale, along with giving listeners a profound polyphony that, arguably, intensifies and continues a dimension of symphonic development that Mahler saw fit to deepen, starting with his fifth symphony. As in Salonen's take on the ninth, this sixth is simply an amazing yet disorienting musical event. Hearing the whole thing through is a little bit like finding oneself, inside one of those Escher drawings that grabs you and occupies multiple angles and perspectives, all at once, despite the physical fact that what is happening is written down on a flat page. Salonen and colleagues draw us into a similar real that is both magical and vaguely, persistently frightening, perhaps as if Escher had gone to music school.

Again the entire symphony is exposed, uncovered, xrayed to pieces throughout all four movements. This would be a fatal risk ... if this were music were nothing but a long-winded sibling of Richard Strauss, Liszt, and maybe, Reger. Salonen and company show us precipitous heights, and wind-swept dizzying ice sheets of sound, of chilling empty vista, only to drop suddenly back into valleys where human life, human feelings still exist. The whole music of the sixth is crystalline, and as in Salonen's ninth, the music often seems like gigantic lead crystal, outsized, ringing.
As the sixth rings out, it also freezes and burns.

I can hardly imagine a greater contrast, say, between this Salonen sixth, and the new release of the same symphony, led by Pappano in Italy. That release catches its own fires, takes its own risks in a distinctly warmer tone. Pappano also inhabits the sort of large expressive musical canvas we might associate with Verdi's Requiem for Manzoni, or in historic literature, with Dante's trilogy. Any addicted afficianado of the sixth will probably consider getting both new releases.

Meanwhile, particularly if we limit ourselves to single disc readings, this Salonen-Philharmonia sixth is its own sort of trans-dimensional, sub-atomic musical astrophysics. In this universe, as Mahler once said, a symphony must be large enough to contain the whole world. And Salonen has his players let loose in a cosmos of spinning galaxies, black holes, stars going nova, and gravity bending time and space.

As with the Salonen Mahler ninth, this sixth stretches to slightly new and frightening realizations, particularly in the final movement. Salonen and players simply ramp it all, up a few notches, and the Finale is freezing, burning tragedy on the largest imagine-able scale.

This Mahler disc begs to be a keeper, then, just as the Mahler ninth disc did. But I predict incisive dissents, and at least some listeners who find this sort of Mahler unappealing, wrong-headed, unconvincing. My view is that, I hope Salonen and the Philharmonia get to continue their Mahler series. Fully charged to keep giving us this sort of new take on Mahler. I am deeply curious about how this approach to the composer would sound, in the seventh symphony, for example. And Salonen lights a whole vista of the fifth, sixth, and seventh as among the most brilliant jewels in the Mahlerian crown jewels. Whether a listener takes to this way or not, one can hardly conclude that Salonen and players confine these three symphonies to the orphanage of middling expectation where we tended to put them, fascinated more with the first four symphonies, or with the last three completed.

Again, five stars. Empty as far deep space, colder than tundra near either earth pole, fiercely burning like a solar flare shooting out across impossible distances. Five stars worth.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
a fine Finale but a tad lightweight in the first 3 movements 17 Nov 2011
By B. Guerrero - Published on
Format: Audio CD
While I was pleasantly surprised - shocked, really - with the results with Antonio Pappano's new Mahler 6 recording for EMI, I'm afraid I'm a tad disappointed with this new Salonen one. Part of the problem, I feel, has to do with the Philharmonia itself. They simply play Mahler too politely these days, and aren't willing to dirty their finger nails with Mahler's many deliberate sound effects. To cite just one example, the brief passage for 'stopped' horns near the end of the first movement is nearly inaudible (the horn's tone is 'stopped' by sticking the right hand farther into the bell, producing a metallic, 'buzzing' sound).

To my ears, the Philharmonia was a far greater Mahler orchestra in the days of Klemperer and Barbirolli. Others might think differently, but I feel that this is no real match for either of Barbirolli's recordings with the same orchestra (EMI studio vs. Testament 'live'). Yet, there's no denying that things perk up greatly in the finale. The problem is that the first three movements are quite perfunctory, relatively speaking. If one is looking for a generally quicker, 'giant Haydn symphony on steroids' approach to Mahler 6, I would suggest that one stick to Boulez/Vienna Phil. (DG), Abbado/Berlin Phil. (DG) or, even better, the recent Saraste/Oslo Phil. Mahler 6 on Simax. If Andante/Scherzo is your preferred movement order, stick to Abbado/BPO or David Zinman on RCA (I prefer the Zinman). While also a 'live' performance, the sound quality is a bit better on the Simax issue (Saraste).
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Coolly modernist Mahler, very well done on its own terms 23 Nov 2011
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on
Format: Audio CD
There has always been a niche for highly controlled Mahler that emphasizes fidelity to the score. Going back a long time, I remember Harold C. Schonberg in the NY Times praising George Szell's Mahler and denigrating Leonard Bernstein's. Schonberg was a crass critic, and he was on the wrong side of history in this case. Brenstein was a towering figure in the Mahler revival that began in the Sixties; Szell was a side note. I suspect that Salonen will be, too, but for the moment his Sixth Sym. is essentially a carbon copy of Szell's in much better sound.

Both conductors can be set side by side - Szell's Mahler Sixth is on a budget Sony line - and you will hear the same determination to stand outside Mahler's turbulent emotional world, delivering precision, remarkable orchestral execution, and transparency of detail as a substitute for deeper involvement. I can imagine listeners who appreciate such an approach. Mahler's astonishing orchestration elicits such fascination that having it painted so exquisitely is quite a feat. Salonen has the Philharmonia playing at a level comparable to Szell's Clevelanders in their glory days. Signum's recorded sound, taken from concerts in Royal Festival Hall in the summer of 2009, is immediate and detailed.

London critics were divided at the time, some contending that Salonen's Mahler Sixth was violent and electrifying, others that it was too well-mannered and graceful. I can understand both reactions since the Sixth, when this well executed, explodes with episodic violence while at the same time there are many episodes of cool detachment on Salonen's part. He made his reputation as a very young conductor by stepping in at the last moment to lead the Mahler Third in London, a work he later recorded on Sony with much the same contours as this Sixth. I admired that recording on its own terms, and it would be unfair to withhold admiration here. Only the rushed, bloodless Andante left me shaking my head in disappointment.

I agree with an earlier reviewer that Salonen's recording suffers by comparison with an astonishing Sixth from Antonio Pappano on EMI, which is more imaginative, passionate, and involved. But Salonen, who is capable of being a cold fish, doesn't falter, and I prefer him to, say, Boulez, whose Sixth is proudly lifeless, an x-ray and flash-freeze job at the same time. There's room for modernist Mahler, certainly, even if one listen is enough before reverting back to Bernstein, Tennstedt, and Barbirolli, whose tumultuous versions of this work leave a searing impression.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Esa-Pekka Salonen's Mahler 6th 29 Jan 2012
By Grady Harp - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The Mahler 6th Symphony is a puzzle for many: the thematic material varies, the emphasis is on starts and stops within a movement can in the wrong hands make the symphony seem simple long and disjointed, and there is always the controversy of the conductor's election of movement placement. And there are those who take sides: either they love or simply tolerate the 6th symphony, waiting for the noise to die down to get to the famous Mahlerian slow movements.

Enter Esa-Pekka Salonen and many of the 'problems' of this work (it happens to be one of this listener's favorite Mahler symphonies) simply disappear. Some may say Salonen is too didactic in his approach, but that is probably yesterday's lunch as far as prejudiced responses. This recording with the Philharmonia Orchestra is vibrant, rich in contrasts, sumptuously played, and more passionate than many other conductors view the work. Salonen sticks with the usual order of movements instead of inserting the Andante after the first movement and finds the recurring themes of each movement readily identifiable in each section, each transformation. This is an exciting performance and one that deserves much more attention than it has received. Grady Harp, January 12
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