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Mahler: Symphony No 6; Strauss: Metamorphosen CD

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD (8 Sept. 2008)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: CD
  • Label: EMI
  • ASIN: B001BBZ994
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 208,024 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Metamorphosen - Study for 23 solo strings AV142 (2002 Digital Remaster)
  2. I. Allegro energico, ma non troppo

Disc: 2

  1. III. Andante
  2. II. Scherzo (Wuchtig)
  3. IV. Finale (Allegro moderato)

Product Description

Mahler: Symphony No 6; Strauss: Metamorphosen / Barbirolli . Release Date: 10/14/2008 . Label: Emi Great Recordings Of The Century . Catalog #: 12690 . Spars Code: ADD . Composer: Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss . Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli . Orchestra/Ensemble: New Philharmonia Orchestra . Number of Discs: 2 . Recorded in: Stereo . Length: 1 Hours 51 Mins. Works on This Recording: 1. Symphony no 6 in A minor "Tragic" by Gustav Mahler Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli Orchestra/Ensemble: New Philharmonia Orchestra Period: Romantic Written: 1904/1906; Austria 2. Metamorphosen for 23 solo Strings, AV 142 by Richard Strauss Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli Orchestra/Ensemble: New Philharmonia Orchestra Period: Romantic Written: 1945; Germany

Customer Reviews

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These are two very robust performances, courtesy of John Barbirolli and the New Philharmonia Orchestra. The first bars of the first movement of Mahler's 6th Symphony crash in with a slow, grinding, even sluggish quality which many listeners find unusual, even shocking, compared to the faster tempos of Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, and (even more so) Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. But for me they only serve to bring out the wrenching power of this wrenchingly powerful symphony. When Alma's theme eventually emerges, it has much the same quality, which I found disappointing, because sharp changes of mood are for me a mark (perhaps the mark) of Mahler's symphonies. The lightness which Karajan brings to this theme, in contrast with the opener, is something I miss. But this remains a great performance, and if you're a fan of loud hammer blows, Barbirolli certainly delivers.

The Strauss is in many ways more of the same. I am not the world's greatest admirer of Strauss, however, so I not really the person to judge.

In summary, then: a great if idiosyncratic performance of Mahler's astonishing symphony, which belongs in every Mahlerian's collection. And, as a bonus, a very good performance of Strauss's Metamorphosen.
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First things first, I first heard Strauss's Metamorphosen quite a few years ago. This version was in a box set of Richard Strauss music conducted by Karajan. I recall being particularly impressed by this music, and the performances and recording. However, I had not heard it for quite a few years since I rarely play my old vinyls.

This version, by Barbirolli, certainly made me sit up and listen. It is a wonderful performance, beautifully recorded, and I do not think it could be bettered.

And now for Mahler's 6th Symphony, the so-called "Tragic". I first heard Bernstein's version during the late 1960s and have always admired it, believing it could never be bettered. It is still available by the way in a box set of Mahler symphonies by Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. Listening to Barbirolli's version, I was immediately struck by his much slower tempi than Bernstein. The first movement, the marching rhythms seemed very sluggish. But, once the second section began, the so-called "Alma" theme, which is easily recognisable as soaring strings, the tempi quickens slightly, and sets the pace for the rest of the movement. I found the performance, and the recording of this particular movement very good indeed.

The second movement, Andante Moderato, which has been recorded as the third movement in some versions, following on from the Scherzo, is one of my favourite Mahler compositions. It is a beautiful piece of music, very pastoral in its nature, and no matter how many times I have heard it over the years, it never fails to move me. Barbirolli's tempi in this case is about right. I was particularly struck by the final bars of the movement, the music building up to an exciting climax. The scherzo is also wonderfully played, quite exciting at times.
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This is my desert island Mahler 6 and while many recordings in EMI's 'Great Recordings of the Century' series struggle to live up to the billing, this one certainly has no problem. What listeners have to remember is that this work was treated with great ambivalence by the conductors earlier in the last century and so no real performing tradition was established. Coupled with Mahler's lack of metronome marks which give conductors great flexibility over timings, this means that you can listen to relatively modern recordings from the 1960's such as this which are literally historic in their role in establishing the piece in the repertoire. Barbirolli took years to prepare to conduct Mahler, realising that the scores needed an 'all-embracing aethestic reflection' (in his words). Hence Barbirolli's extreme slow timings have been exquisitely thought through in terms of their effect, with the opening Allegro making the music strong and granite-like while allowing the first romantic theme to shine through beautifully. The finale is also spine-chilling in Barbirolli's hands, although the orchestra is taxed mightily in some of the denser sections - this is partly compensated for by a superb (for its day) recording which stands comparison with modern versions.

The Strauss is as excellent as you're likely to find, any faults are more related to the structure of the piece and its ability to keep its simple theme going for over twenty minutes, rather than this outstanding performance.
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Barbirolli's Mahler 6th deserves its fame. This was one of the first really fine recordings to appear back in the 1960s, when this work was very much less well known than now. Back then, this recording held the field, along with the New York Philharmonic's searing account under Bernstein. Would JB have been astonished to discover just how many recordings of this darkest of all symphonies would be available 40 years on? Or did he expect even then that 'Mahler's time would come' so rapidly?

Others have said what a unique and eloquent recording this is, and they're right. Please hear it and buy it - BUT please don't keep it as your only version.

It's true that Sir John brings an almost Elgarian nobility and expressiveness to the first movement, but his slow, dragging tempo in the first theme disregards explicit requests in Mahler's score. Also, he omits the first movement's exposition repeat. Mahler doesn't often ask for this but in this symphony he does, and it is easy to hear why. It is a miracle that Mahler presents us with so much contrasting and intertwined thematic material in the first few minutes of the symphony - we deserve to hear it again before we go forward into the conflict-ridden and mysterious world of the development.

JB brought a unique intensity and elan to orchestral string music. Strauss's glorious Metamorphosen could have been written especially for him, and for the orchestras who played their hearts out for him in the mid-20th century.
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