Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
on 15 March 2016
Both Klaus Tennstedt and Michael Kennedy stated that they thought this the greatest of Mahler's Symphonies. I would agree with them, not that this counts for much! This is also a performance of enormous stature, in my view, at least, the best recording of Mahler's greatest symphony ever made. For comparisons I have owned, or heard, performances by Tennstedt (live and studio) Bernstein (NYPO), Rattle, Barbirolli, Szell, Solti, Haitink.
Firstly, the playing of the Berliners is simply without peer. Tennstedt talked of this being an exhausting piece for an orchestra to play, its technical and stamina demands are extreme. Of course this is a studio recording, made in many takes and without the need for concert hall type stamina, but even so, the playing here is quite fabulous; powerful, refined and beautiful; Mahler's complex contrapuntal textures are superbly clear and the recorded sound is magnificent. As an interpretation Karajan's also knocks spots off nearly all the opposition. Bernstein would be reckoned a more idiomatic interpreter of Mahler in most people's minds, but I think this is FAR FAR superior to his NYPO recording. What Karajan does here is adopt speeds, in the outer movements especially, fairly close to Bernstein's ... but ... he is MUCH more flexible, so that, in his hands, for e.g the "Alma" theme, given just a little leeway in tempo, really soars in a beautiful and romantic way. There is sweep if you like. That is only one example, the cowbell/alpine episodes are also given more room to breathe, the whole of the slow movement is ... I could go on. But basically Karajan's whole approach enables far more of the music's character to emerge. This is a heartbreaking, ultimately doomed, journey; but it is also a heroic, muscular, romantic, beautiful and courageous one. The only interpreter to compare is Tennstedt, but his studio recording is not on this level of execution, nor is it as refined a recording. Tennstedt's LPO live account is stunning, capturing the music's beauty and heroism as well as even more of its terror, but the recording is nowhere near state of the art. Sometimes the old Penguin Guide (before CD's swamped the market, after which they went downhill) was right on the money - and they were here - this performance is a revelation, and a first choice for Mahler 6 by many a mile.