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...