Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Also R. Strauss:  Metamorphosen.  Sir John Barbirolli, New Philharmonia Orchestra.  EMI 50999 2 12963 2 (2-disc set).

Here's another classic that the folks at EMI have remastered in their "Great Recordings of the Century" series. I'm not sure this 1967 recording from Sir John Barbirolli is actually a "Great Recording of the Century," given that it presents a highly idiosyncratic view of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, but who am I to argue. I know I've always liked the interpretation, whether it's pure Mahler or not.

Establishing its tone in the first moments, Barbirolli offers a performance of lingering contemplation from the very start, the conductor lovingly dwelling on and sustaining Mahler's dark, tragic, often grotesque moods. It is not a reading I could recommend without caution, yet it is one I would not personally want anywhere but at the top of my own personal list. For the not-so-adventurous listener, there are still good performances from Haitink (Philips), Abbado (DG), Szell (Sony), Solti (Decca), Bernstein (Sony), Horenstein (Unicorn), Tennstedt (EMI), Karajan (DG), and others, with their more-conventional, but for me ultimately less-involving, styles.

Anyway, Barbirolli offers up a vision of Mahler that is quite broad, appropriately ambiguous, a little goofy in the Scherzo, lovely in the Andante (which comes as the second movement, according to Mahler's revised order), and filled with the conflicting moods of love and death, doom and gloom that Mahler enjoyed exploring.

Along with the Sixth Symphony we get Barbirolli's performance of Richard Strauss's "Study for 23 Solo Strings," called "Metamorphosen." Strauss wrote it at the end of World War II as a sort of elegy, the music sublimely suggesting--hoping--that something different, something changed for the better, would rise from the ashes of the horror.

EMI's sound could hardly be better. It is without doubt the best sound the Sixth Symphony and maybe even "Metamorphosen" have ever been afforded, better even than Haitink's fine digital release of Mahler. Coming from 1967, the middle of EMI's golden age of producers and engineers Bishop, Parker, Anderson, and Brown, the sonics are clean, well balanced, wide-ranging, and naturally transparent--a joy to listen to, and now made a touch smoother through EMI's Abbey Road technology. Of course, the clarity of the new medium makes Sir John's audible contributions all the more apparent--you'll hear him wheezing throughout the proceedings--but they are a minor distraction in an otherwise treasurable recording.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa