3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I can't believe it's not Bernstein,
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (Audio CD)
I can never make up my mind whether Michael Tilson Thomas is a good Mahler conductor or whether he just does a good impression of one, namely Leonard Bernstein. In his favour, I suppose it takes a great deal of skill to do either!
Cynicism aside though, it is easy to hear the influence of the older man on his protégé in this recording; it is similar in almost every way to Bernstein's monumental Vienna account on DG ( Symphony No.6 ). The choice and flexibility of tempo; the luscious, swooning lyricism of the `Alma' theme and the third movement; the placing of the scherzo as the second movement, and the cataclysmic treatment of the Finale all owe a great deal to Bernstein. This is no bad thing in itself (I'm a huge fan of Bernstein in this music) and Tilson Thomas does have his own views of how certain passages should proceed. However, the joins sometimes show. There are a couple of moments where his gear changes are not as seamless and slick as they could or should be and the flow of the music is ever so slightly disrupted. I don't want to make too much of this, however; it doesn't kill the performance, but it does leave me with the nagging doubt that he is trying to self-consciously differentiate himself from Bernstein at times.
Nevertheless, this is a very considerable achievement and I have a lot of admiration for it. Tilson Thomas clearly knows the back-story to this symphony, and he has been conducting Mahler for long enough to understand how to make the composer's narrative effective; this is tragedy on a suitably epic scale. Only in comparison with Bernstein, Tennstedt ( Mahler: Symphony No 6 ) and Abbado ( Mahler: Symphony No. 6 ) does he lack the last degree of intensity. He is ably assisted by his San Francisco players on top form (although I'd have liked more bite and snarl in the brass) and a demonstration-quality SACD recording which is astonishing in its dynamic range and fidelity. Audience noise is unobtrusive and applause is not included.
If you want a Mahler Six in top-notch SACD sound then this set really has only one serious contender, and that's Abbado. To be honest, I prefer that recording as I think Abbado comes across as more of his own man than Tilson Thomas does. If you like your Mahler with more heart on its sleeve than Abbado offers, Bernstein and Tennstedt are the real deal, although Tilson Thomas certainly won't disappoint.
A few niggles then, but still a strong contender.