6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality live recording
Gergiev's live Barbican recording of Mahler's 6th Symphony has one thing going for it - he gets it wrapped up in 77 minutes, which is a clear ten minutes quicker than some, if the enclosed booklet is to be believed. It does not appear to rush to shave those minutes off, and the LSO plays precisely and enthusiastically. The disc has the excitement that comes with a live...
Published on 20 April 2008 by G. Brack
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very decidedly individual view of Mahler 6
What a magnificent orchestra! The LSO play like musicians possessed and at even the highest speed still manage to inflect the music with interesting phrasing. Also, the recording is pretty good for live at the Barbican. I wonder how many performances were used to splice together the music and how many extra takes were necessary? As it is, I detect a growing security...
Published on 20 April 2008 by Colin Fortune
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality live recording,
Gergiev's live Barbican recording of Mahler's 6th Symphony has one thing going for it - he gets it wrapped up in 77 minutes, which is a clear ten minutes quicker than some, if the enclosed booklet is to be believed. It does not appear to rush to shave those minutes off, and the LSO plays precisely and enthusiastically. The disc has the excitement that comes with a live recording, with a refreshing freedom from background noise. Having been brought up on Karajan and the BPO, it would take something special to displace that from first place, and this isn't it. The opening is handled well, and the andante is controlled, but the finale is marked allegro moderato and this performance seemed to me to drift. Rather than Karajan's studied stateliness and steady cranking up of tension, Gergiev goes for wistfulness and passion. Granted, this may be more unreservedly passionate than Karajan, and that has an appeal of its own. It is perfectly possible that romantics may prefer Gergiev's less obviously crafted approach. It's a respectable recording and worth hearing; but I doubt that I shall take it out very often for repeated play.
One small gripe: neither the CD liner nor the box sleeve has a track listing. If listeners know the piece this may be no problem, but since one of the LSO's avowed aims is to attract a new audience to classical music, a bit more information so they know where they are would have been welcome.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Bold and Dynamic Account of a Masterwork,
Mahler's 6th Symphony takes you on a journey that you don't want to reach the end of. It yields more and more on each listening. Leaden with great beauty & conflict, harmony & dissonance, it carries you towards the very last bars before delivering a final hammer blow that stops you in your tracks, stunned.
Captured `live', from a recording point of view this is technically brilliant. The energy and commitment from the stage arrives straight off of the disc. Every string of the harp, the internal rumble of the timpani, and every tiny percussion blow is totally defined - even when the orchestra is at full voice. I was lucky enough to experience the LSO live at Sage Gateshead, and this was no disappointment in bringing back that raw excitement I felt that evening.
For the first movement, Gergiev sets a strong tempo that grabs you by the lapels right from the start - compelling. All the elements are strongly shaped and given full rein, with space and definition.
The hauntingly beautiful second movement, tinged with the darker undertow of what is to come, is particularly impressive - expressive, controlled, and profound.
Once the third movement has taken us forward once more, adding yet more to be resolved, the final movement ebbs and flows before propelling us towards the final blow. And here Gergiev does not disappoint - that final blow is just that: it is only then, with the final shock of a complete and sudden silence that you realise what range and depth of feeling and emotion (and intellectual turmoil) you have been drawn into.
If you're new to Mahler there are many things to explore as well as the 6th - and you may have to give this some time to `tune in' - but when you do..... And if you're Mahler fan, this is certainly worth taking a look at as a new addition to the recording canon. And at this price, you are certainly getting your money's worth.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very decidedly individual view of Mahler 6,
What a magnificent orchestra! The LSO play like musicians possessed and at even the highest speed still manage to inflect the music with interesting phrasing. Also, the recording is pretty good for live at the Barbican. I wonder how many performances were used to splice together the music and how many extra takes were necessary? As it is, I detect a growing security with the music as the disc plays through the movements and this is what one expects from live performance: an orchestra has to warm up and settle in a performance. But it could be that different takes on different nights were used.
The huge problem for me is the fast music in the First Movement. This is almost as fast as I have ever heard it presented and the result is exciting but somehow misses something of the gravitas of the music. This is a MARCH and Mahler marked it "Allegro energico, ma non troppo - Heftig aber markig" which translates as "Energetically lively, BUT NOT TOO MUCH - Heavy but powerful" (my emphasis). Play it at the speed that Gergiev chooses and the "heavy power" becomes hectoring and indeed, during the recapitulation at 18.37 and following, frantic and hysterical. The "nocturnal" cow-bell passage from 11.10 to 14.16 is, on the contrary, played with exemplary tenderness and nostalgia. For me the contrast is too much. You can get an idea of how fast the music is from comparing the following timings for the first movement. Overall this disc is the second fastest I have come across and the list is in descending order of speed:
Kubelik DGG 21.07
Gergiev LSO Live 21.59
Boulez DGG 23.06
Bernstein DGG 23.08
Eschenbach Ondine 23.34
Tennstedt HMV 23.36
Bertini HMV 24.04
Gielen Hansler 24.34
Barbirolli's famous New Philharmonia account would reach to over 25 minutes but the exposition repeat is left out! Conductors have to take a choice in overall interpretation between fleet anger/rage and heavy doom/threat. Just as Kubelik and Gergiev are proponents of the first approach, Gielen and Barbiroli are followers of the second. The "middle way" seems to be found by Eschenbach and Tennstedt. My own preference is that the conductor takes the "but not too much - heavy but powerful" directive seriously and so I find myself unhappy with the first movement. Play it with fire and anger and you lose out on weight and threat.
The Andante moderato movement is placed second. This is not the place to go into the arguments about the order of the movements and Mahler himself did not seem too sure. The Andante is a tender and, in Gergiev's performance, eventually an impassioned love song. There is something about the fulsomeness of the faster music when compared with the chaste fragility of the slower, that reminds me of Tchaikovski in this performance.
But the Scherzo is REAL Mahler. It starts surprisingly heavy and sinster and the Trios are very intelligently characterised. Here you will find some of the most lovely wind playing on the disc as the music becomes more and more hesitant. The final dying away into oblivion is most chilling, suggesting that even the memory of good times will die. This is by far the best movement on the disc.
The huge finale suffers again from frantic speeds, though it starts well enough: under the portentious doom-laden writing one feels the sinuous stirrings of some huge malign influence. But then the speed are just that bit too fast to register the crushing weight of the very best performances. The very end of the symphony is delivered crushingly, of course, because Gergiev is a conductor who understands drama in its more obvious forms. But I think that he miscalculates the long-term emotional patterns in the work.
At the price this is a stunningly well produced bargain, and one cannot say that it is a "wrong" interpretation. Indeed, it is perfectly valid. I just feel that a little less speed, and a little less playing up of the drama would have produced a more profound interpretation.
Gergiev is, of course, a notable interpreter of Shostakovitch, but this does not mean that he will be as good with Mahler, for all that Mahler's work influenced the great Soviet symphonist. There is a particular set of nuances that conductors who have lived with Mahler for a long time seem to have - a feeling of "rightness" which, in my opinion, I can only find fully developed in the Scherzo of this particular performance. Sir John Barbirolli said that it took him several years study of a Mahler score before he felt he could perform it - and this was not because he did not know how to conduct it technically or had difficulty in reading the music. It was all to do with entering into the emotional world of the composer. Perhaps Gergiev needs this sort of investment of time before he becomes a great Mahler conductor.
Anybody buying this for its fairly reasonable cost will not be short-changed, but my own current recommendation, though costing about three times as much, is the Ondine recording with Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This is a two disc set coupled with the Piano Quartet movement in A minor from 1876 on ODE1084-SD. These too are "live" performances, but the conducting is surely and centrally Mahlerian and the recorded sound, even in two channel stereo, is quite simply the best I have ever heard. This disc is available from Amazon and if you wish to see a review of it please click on "See all my reviews" and then scroll down to it. It is the disc to own.
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Gergiev's Mahler,
The title of this review is important; it's not my own but that of the LSO's own programmes for Gergiev's cycle of Mahler's symphonies. This is not Mahler's Mahler. Gergiev has stamped his every being on to this work. His finger print (or, more accurately, his clunking fist, to borrow a phrase) is there to hear: rapid, rigid tempi, brash brass and superficial drama. He is one of those conductors that reaches his emotional peak early on and has nothing left. The CD tells us that this was recorded 'live' at the Barbican in November 2007. Having listened to the Radio broadcast and compared it with this recording it is clear that most of it comes from a recording of the rehearsal, rather than the concert performance. There's nothing wrong with this as it removes coughs and other audience noise.
His disregard for the opening's 'ma mon troppo' qualification may sound, to some, as daring and full of vigour, but it's certainly not what Mahler had in mind and it robs it of its sense of a man trudging against the wind and rain: it's too easy. This is a difficult work, and it should sound like a journey that is not at all easy (excepting the interludes that attempt to bring us back to calm earth, but never really do). Two conductors seemed to manage this so well: Horenstein and Barbirolli. It is obvious that Gergiev has a plan for the architecture of the symphony, and of all of Mahler's symphonies, this one is his most 'symphonic', which yields positive results, it is just that the journey falters. The final movement's musical landscape is perhaps the most successful. I was exhausted after listening to it, with that final outburst subsiding in to the abyss so starkly.
In the end, for a first Mahler 6 I would recommend other recordings (Abbado with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2006 is the best of modern recordings) and then have a go at this one. After all, it is rather cheap and the sound recording is superb.
4.0 out of 5 stars Mahler - Symphony No 6,
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Here we have the advantage of a great orchestra conducted by a leading conductor of the day who has a well-earned reputation. The symphony itself starts with an urgent speeded-up march that makes you think you're late for your own funeral which is waiting for you in the fourth movement. The second subject known as 'Alma's theme' gives some blessed respite and, in my view, also a feeling of redemption. You can easily imagine that during a dark mood, Mahler found comfort in his wife Alma and the expression of that in the second subject temporarily relieves the all pervading gloom. After a little further relief in the second movement's andante we are faced the all pervading sence of doom of the third and fourth movements. This work is not for those who expect the kind of uplifting finale's provided in the second, third and eighth symphonies.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The sixth of nine,
Of Mahler's nine complete symphonies the 6th is probably one of his lesser known, often pushed behind the more popular first, second, fifth and eight. Composed in 1903-4 during a happy period (his marriage to Alma Schindler and the birth of their second daughter) the work underwent many revisions before its premiere performance in 1906, conducted by Mahler, with the concert program showing the nickname `Tragische' (Tragic) for which it is still known.
The work is scored for large scale orchestra, with Mahler's typical duplication of instruments- in this case two harps - and the inclusion of some unusual percussion instruments such as a hammer intended to produce a "brief and mighty but dull" sound.
Mahler's compositions, considering his fame it's difficult to believe he wrote fewer than twenty, lie on the fringes of many people's musical tastes but for others provoke a lifelong passionate study of the composer and his music.
The 6th symphony, this version is 77 minutes long, demonstrates the dramatic, turbulent and often bleak emotions which typify Mahler's work and presents a challenge for those more accustomed to the shorter and more easily accessible symphonic works of, for example, Mozart. I think musical pieces like should be treated as a journey, best enjoyed when time permits them to be played in their entirety from start to finish to enable the range of emotions to be placed in context with the whole composition.
This `live' recording (there's no audience noise) was made by the London Symphony Orchestra at their resident Barbican Centre, London, during November 2007 and represents the first of a complete Mahler symphony cycle to be recorded throughout 2007 to 2009. The LSO performances are outstanding and the recordings match those of their usual standard, being presented here in multi-channel audio for those with an SACD player.
The LSO recently produced a stunningly exciting complete Beethoven symphony cycle and presumably this Mahler cycle will follow the same format of releasing each CD as it is recorded, then offering the entire works as a box set upon completion.
I made the mistake of buying the individual LSO Beethoven releases as they became available and then buying the box set when it was released, and judging the excellent quality of this first Mahler release I'll probably do the same again.
One complaint (shared by others) - and there's time for the LSO Live label to rectify it on subsequent releases - is the lack of track list and times on the back of the CD.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 Stars For A Satisfactory Start To Gergiev's Cycle,
Well enough recorded for a Barbican concert; maybe the SACD layer adds something extra if you've got all the hardware. Gergiev's Mahler is, as you might anticipate, a full-on, thrusting sound, not much inclined to linger, none too fastidious. So far, the concerts upon which this CD cycle will be based have been getting a bit of an iffy reception. I went to the Fifth and quite enjoyed it, for all that it was accident prone and rather strident. The same is true of this, the second recording of Mahler's tragic Sixth Symphony, to come from this label (the first with Jansons).
Gergiev comes out of the starting blocks fast and full of macho determination, without any hint of world-weariness from the basses. In this he is vaguely reminiscent of the older adepts whose job it was, back in the 60s, to thrust aside snobbish doubts about what was then unknown material from a neglected Austrian with an outsize imagination. The trouble is, Mahler performances have come a long way since then, as can be deduced from the insert note which describes the work as going up to 90 minutes when this performance is well under 80!
As seems to be the new orthodoxy, the andante now comes second, ahead of the scherzo (I can't get used to it), which is delivered with sufficient tenderness before cimaxing in a red-blooded fervour. Incidentally, the cowbells in the first movement are, as here, tolerbaly good. Scherzo and finale are puffed out with suitable vim and vigour, the second hammer blow pretty damn powerful.
For all that, who really is going to buy this, apart from Mahler newbies or Gergiev lovers? The fact is, this performance is probaby a notch behind Janson's for sophistication and both are inadequate for repeated listening. Pay a pound or two more and you can have a quite stunning studio recording from way back in the late 1970s, better recorded in analogue stereo (those bells and percussion effects uniquely poetic) and comprehensively better played and conducted. I refer, of course, to von Karajan's Berlin Phil recording on DG. You also get the woinderful Christa Ludwig singing Mahler lieder as a makeweight. Fabulous value.
For all that it is cheap, though not so cheap as a few years ago, LSO Live, at least for Mahler, is going to pall (probably) alongside live recordings made by the San Francisco Symphony with MTT, as well as any further live Mahler from Berlin (EMI). I just hope they're not printing too many copies. As concert souvenirs fine. As library choices: no.
Maybe if they'd secured Haitink for the Mahler and used Gergiev for something symphonic and under-recorded. What if...
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars LIVE, ALIVE-O,
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This recording is from a series entitled `LSO Live', and the first thing to be clear about is what this terminology denotes. All my life I have used and heard the expression `live performance' in the sense of a performance given in the presence of an audience or at least broadcast unrecorded. The blurb on the back of the leaflet promises us `energy and emotion that you can only experience live in the concert hall', and indeed this account of the Mahler 6th was given in a concert hall, specifically London's Barbican Centre. However a `live performance' in what I regard as the legitimate sense it ain't. There is no audience - you can tell from the acoustic. Also the date of the recording is stated only as `November 2007', which says to me that it was a matter of multiple takes on more than one day. This is no more `live' than if it had been recorded in a recognised recording location like Walthamstow Town Hall, and if it had been done there the acoustic would have been better than the dryish Barbican sound.
That said, this is still a distinguished issue. The virtues of Gergiev's account are the kind of virtues that I associate with Boulez more than with Rattle as a Mahler interpreter - strength, impetus and clarity rather than flexibility, neurosis and the composer's damaged heart worn on his sleeve. Of all the Mahler series the 6th probably lends itself most to the Gergiev approach, but I should confess right away that in my own attitude to Mahler I am in general a Rattler. It is only necessary to look through the other reviews on this site to appreciate that experienced and sensitive listeners to Mahler entertain highly divergent expectations from a performance of this symphony, so it is only to be expected that aspects that appeal to or do not attract me will not follow criteria shared by everyone. Among the Mahler symphonies, the 6th seems to me to approach nearest to Shostakovich in mood and expression, so there is a lot to be said for the tempi, unhurried but not dragged either, that Gergiev adopts. As I have already hinted, Rattle-style rubato is not Gergiev's way, and I am quite comfortable with this as part of a clear and thought-through overall concept. As for the sound in general, well, I'm glad this is the 6th and not the 5th. It lacks for nothing in clarity, but I would have liked a little more richness, at least when played on cd equipment. Oddly, the passages in the finale that almost resemble Strauss fare comparatively well in terms of sound: it is in the comparatively austere first movement that I experienced a little discomfort.
With Mahler one always wants comment of good quality in the liner, and by and large Stephen Johnson handles the task well. He does not take a view on whether the slow movement should precede the scherzo (as here) or follow it, nor can I see that this matters as our present-day technology allows us to program the sequence of the movements to our own taste. As with Shostakovich, this music obviously has strong extra-musical influences, but Mahler, unlike Shostakovich, decided to keep his mouth shut about them - a great relief to me for one, as I feel that Shostakovich has been the fruitful father of confusion through his self-contradictions and changes of mind. Mahler even dropped the title `Tragic' for the work, which demonstrates how serious he was about avoiding misleading statements. The most tragic symphony known to me is the 4th of Brahms, a work as purely abstract and `absolute' in concept as any ever composed. Occasionally Johnson pushes the envelope too far: `Mahler...had looked into... the coming century...Where else could those violent march rhythms, those vivid depictions...have come from?' Goodness me, I don't know where from, so tell me. However in the main he is sensible, adducing such evidence as he deems relevant from the composer's biography, from his ambivalent attitude to Nietzsche and from contemporary events. One statement earns Johnson a mild reprimand, and is his reference to `a 90-minute symphony'. Be not afraid, it takes 77 minutes in this account, and I hope 90 minutes in no account.
So do I `recommend' this disc? Truth to tell, I don't even know. It has everything to be said for it in terms of consistency of interpretation, and of course the players are the LSO. It depends on how each of us hears this symphony in particular, and this composer more generally. Myself, I don't hear this performance as I tend to imagine Mahler by and large, but on the other hand this symphony, in any possible performance, does not fully conform to my overall image of Mahler. I doubt I can be much more categorical in a purely verbal review, so if you get the chance try to hear this set and judge how well it works for you. One thing I can be clear about is - use a fairly high volume setting for the recording to make its most favourable impact.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Version of a Complex Work,
Over the years I have heard many versions of Mahler's 6th Symphony, perhaps the most complex he ever wrote.
The composer began work on the symphony during the summer of 1903, completing it a year later. The work was revised several times after its first performance in Essen which was conducted by Mahler himself.
To this day, it has remained his most complex and often misunderstood work. Indeed, Mahler himself had difficulties in conducting it and came to acknowledge that it would never be accepted during his own lifetime. It was not performed in the United States until 1947 and in Great Britain, 1956.
One of the finest conductors today, Valery Gergiev, was given an opportunity to conduct this work live at the Barbican, in London during November 2007 with the London Symphony Orchestra, and it is this recording, part of the Mahler cycle which he is currently recording to which I refer.
From start to finish, Gergiev takes a lively tempi, allowing the music to flow naturally, so it never seems rushed particularly taking into account the opening Marching theme which dominates the first movement. Moreover, the "Pastoral" themes where cow-bells were used for the first time in an orchestra weave its enchanted way amidst the aggressive strings and horns as they struggle within the harmonic structure of the movement. The movement ends in a thrilling climax.
Out of all the controversies surrounding this symphony, there is probably none greater than the order of the middle movements, Scherzo and Andante Moderato.
Leonard Bernstein's version recorded by CBS in New York City on May 2 and 6 1967 (which is one of the finest versions still available as part of a Mahler box set) has the Scherzo immediately after the first movement with Andante Moderato before the very long and complex final movement. Gergiev has reversed the order and to be honest, I am not sure if it does really work. The Andante Moderato movement is a very beautiful and gentle "Pastoral" piece, one of Mahler's finest creations. Gergiev however, conducts a masterly version, full of passion, a delight to listen to, but it is not placed correctly, in my view within the context of the work. It should be the "Calm Before The Storm", preceding the long finale with its tragic-motif and hammer blows representing "Fate" which totally dominates the conclusion of the work.
Despite my misgivings about the order of the movements, Gergiev has conducted this great music with much skill and passion, drawing some fine playing from the London Symphony orchestra. Moreover, listeners can also embrace the atmosphere of a "live" performance.
Recording is very good with wide spacious sound. Recommended.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The perplexity which is Mahler,
I struggle to get to grips with Mahler -- either in the concert hall or on CD. His symphonies contain a bundle of good tunes and sweeping, romantic writing, which easily give the impression -- at first -- that they are accessible, 'program' works. But nothing in Mahler is actually that simple, and, in this sixth symphony, it is necessary to listen at full concentration merely to keep track of the range of incident and texture which he presses into these 77 minutes and eleven seconds.
The sixth symphony is often referred to as 'the Tragic', though Mahler himself abandoned that working title before completing it. According to Mahler's wife Alma, the final movement tells of 'the hero, on whom fall three blows of fate, the last of which fells him like a tree'. Those three blows were originally to be heard in three hammer blows (the first time a hammer had been used in a symphony), although Mahler reduced it to two in the final version leaving the brass and a full orchestral chord to pound in the final blow.
My difficulties with Mahler, and especially this symphony, are compounded by the fact that it cries out for interpretation -- almost for a phrase by phrase analysis, describing what every motif represents -- but no-one can quite agree what Mahler is writing about. This difficulty is partly because Mahler himself suffered powerful swings of mood and belief, and partly because his wife Alma, who survived him by 50 years, allegedly tampered with his letters and published a variety of (again allegedly) misleading accounts of the man and his music. So, for example, the major key melody in the first movement apparently represents Alma Mahler herself, but we do not know this for certain.
The other difficulty of really appreciating Mahler is that many things which were pioneering when he wrote them have now been accepted into the mainstream. As well as the use of hammers, this was the first symphonic use of the celesta, cowbells and a whip. Mahler uses percussion much more extensively than was common at the time, and makes masterful use of all the textures of the orchestra, including a very large woodwind section. However, 102 years after the first performance, heard through a century of extraordinary experiment, it is hard to imagine why it was so controversial. For example, the orchestral chords with timpani in the finale are sinister and impressive, but not compared to the much later Fortuna in Orff's Carmina Burana, and the woodwind textures are progressive, but not compared with the opening of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Stravinsky, by the way, referred to Mahler as 'malheur' ('bad luck'). But Mahler _was_ progressive -- to the point of being unpopular in his day, so that the Musical Times, in his 1911 obituary, wrote "The English public were apathetic to his music probably because his naïveté of expression did not stir them and his high endeavour and scholarship, although doubtless admired, made no deep appeal; in the case of the symphonies a further obstacle to acceptance was their length."
For myself, I think the Musical Times was wrong: Mahler is not difficult music, certainly not compared to what came after him. But it is challenging music, and it is a challenge not to be entertained lightly. This is not a disc to play as background to a soirée. It demands full attention, and will disappoint if it does not get it.
Finally, to the recording itself. Gergiev and the LSO have done everything they possibly can to reproduce the sense of an orchestra in live performance, with an impassioned but (they maintain) definitive account of the music. This is underlined by presentation both in stereo and in multi-channel surround sound. The quality is crisp and detailed, and never muddy, despite the need to accommodate timpani and much woodwind. The recording was live in the Barbican in 2007, although there is no sense in the recording of the presence of the audience. At times I feel the recording is slightly airless, although this is probably necessary to keep enough headroom for the very sharp transients when the cymbals are in use, becoming positively eery in the celesta section of finale, when the sound suddenly becomes extremely proximate.
It would be churlish to deny this recording five stars, and, as such, I heartily recommend it. As for the music, perplexity may be the most appropriate way to approach it, given all we know (or perhaps do not know) of Mahler the man.
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