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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

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.
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on 23 February 2012
Amazon's customer reviews section has always been home to extreme points of view, perplexing to everyone how one man's meat can be another's poison. This late '70s Mahler 6 from the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert Von Karajan is no exception, with both 5-star and 1-star reviews. The interesting thing is the naysayers seem to be reacting against the recommenders, rather than against the recording itself. Their attacks are also directed at the conductor in quite a personal and maybe envious fashion.

The big joke is the invidious notion that Karajan was not an interpreter of the music somehow (or an uncomprehending one); that this is Karajan's Mahler 6 rather than the composer's. Urgh. You could just as easily thrust that argument at Bernstein, or Barbirolli, or Tennstedt. Is not Haitink's Mahler 6 Haitink's as well as Mahler's? Karajan, Haitink and Bernstein are all conductors with massive wide-ranging discographies and all are prone to lazy generalisations about their supposed stamp (beauty / emotion / dourness). The truth is never so simple.

This recording of Symphony No.6, made in Philharmonie in the late 1970s, is of superb quality, one of the best achieved by DG for Karajan and the BPO in this venue and I would say much superior to the overrated Bernstein recording from Vienna. At the big climaxes, which arrive with cataclysmic force, you can hear everything clear as could be. When it comes to the interpretation it is worth remembering a factor highlighted in Richard Osborne's biography of the conductor: his fear and hatred of war, the lifelong apprehension which made conducting certain war or death-haunted works such an intense and exhausting experience. This symphony is one of them and only an imbecile could fail to notice that it is a recorded performance coloured by intense passion. Even the 1-star folks can be found saying the orchestra play superbly, but they make THAT small detail sound superfluous. Let's say it again, shall we: the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan play this symphony superbly.

Add to that you'll have Ludwig's classic interpretations of Mahler lieder and both discs are at budget price. What more could you reasonably want, provided you don't suffer from chronic dissatisfaction?
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on 13 March 2005
An excellent recording - sound quality is infallible, the BPO's playing - well, what can I say? Up to the standard of the BPO! The first movement's march is at moderate-to-quick tempi, ideally suited to both conductor and orchestra, with the flawless, sensitive playing that is found throuhgout this rendition of the Sixth. The different secitons of this movement fit together seamlessly, without the embarrasingly quick tempo changes that other conductors have to adopt to make it all fit. The end of the first movement is superb, a whirlwind of excellent orchestration perfectly realised.
The second movement scherzo is great - I can't make a detailed comment on this movement, as I am least familiar with it. However, the sound balance is fine.
The third movement really is something special. Having heard other reviewers rave about Karajan's first movement, and the joys of the scherzo, I wasn't sure what to expect of the Andante Moderato, but it is played so luciously, powerfully and with such intense feeling that the culmination is really powerful, and for me this supercedes anything heard so far.
AS for the finale, I listened to this three times straight through - it blew me away. One minor criticism - the hammer-blows are a little hard to pick out, especially when new to the piece. I always envisage them as being shattering, hugely powerful - they are not so powerful here. But that doesn't really matter, as the rest of the percussion and the dynamics of the orchestra really make up for it, and one can really feel the 'blows of fate' that give this symphony its renown.
Karajan himself actually considered making a substantial cut in this movement, but it all flows excellently and there is no feel of monotony at all, just building excitement, before its tragic end.
Some may say that this recording lacks the energythat Bernstein puts into it, but I would reply that Karajan's tempo and feel is what this symphony really needs - you can really feel the 'Tragedy', wheras perhaps Bernstein's is a little more akin to 'neurotic horror' - Tragedy needs a little (not too much!) serenity to reflect on the tragedy of the situation, and this is what Karajan gives us, making the performance all the more effective for us.
So, the verdict, 5 stars - a Tragic triumph.
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on 15 February 2014
A pity Karajan came to Mahler so late in some ways but as a performance this has marvellous control as one would expect but combined with a level of passion that at times made me think I was listening to Lenny Bernstein and yet this is Karajan conducting as if his life depended on it and the orchestra responding in a reading that should be in every Mahler collection.
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on 30 March 2009
This recording used be Penguin Guide top recommendation of the 6th when I bought it long time ago and it still sounds very impressive among other great recordings by Bernstein, Horenstein, Inoue, Tennstedt (live rec) and Solti. 6th is probably the most problematic of all Mahler Symphonies as the number of really good recordings are limited. I've listened to many recordings but conductors get at least two movements out of four wrong! Even great Bertini's account seems to be bewildering, Tennstedt's studio Version completely out of shape, Abbado's BPO live recording very tame...

Karajan's account is not as explosive as Solti or Bernstein's, but very balanced and beautifully crafted with sumptuousness of Mahler's orchestration vividly captured. The perfectly paced slow movement is truly sublime. The 1st and the last movement very eloquent without vulgar exaggeration. Highly recommendable alongside Solti and Bernstein's powerful recording.
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on 16 September 2001
This recording is utterly stunningly brilliant. Karajan's reading is somehow completely *right*, with the dark passages of the symphony made all the more striking by the radiant beauty of other moments. As always the BPO's playing is note perfect, but this never overpowers the emotional weight of the piece. This recording won 2 awards on release on LP, and is currently recommeded by Gramophone as the best available recording of the work. I agree with this judgement wholeheartedly.
You MUST buy, as the other reviewer has already said. RIGHT NOW!
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on 24 November 2003
Words don't quite do this recording justice. The more you hear it, the more it blows me away. Just listen to the end of the first movement if you need an example of what I'm talking about - it is a marvel of orchestral ensemble and high drama. I must have listened to this section a hundred times and each time I am just as lost for words. Get it yourself and have a listen.
Karajan is a master and Mahler in his hands is very powerful stuff. Shame he didn't record more.
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on 10 November 1999
Karajan's 1978 recording of Mahler's Sixth has been transferred to CD and shines like new - don't be put off by the Analogue origins! Critics have run through the whole dictionary of superlatives in their attempts to describe this performance, so I won't try to compete. However, I will say that cowbells have never sounded so haunting, nor hammerblows so stultifying... Simon Rattle will have to go some to make the Berlin Philharmonic sound this good again.
You MUST buy
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on 10 June 2009
This is a stunning recording of this symphony and fully reccomend to any Mahler lover.
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on 7 April 2015
A great buy.
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