Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (CD review)

Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 00289 477 5573.

One can hardly fault Abbado's interpretation of the Mahler Sixth Symphony. The man has proved himself a modern master of all things Mahlerian, and this performance has certainly the touch of mastery about it. Above all is the sense of forward drive supreme. From beginning to end, the piece seems of a whole, everything in it rushing toward that final culmination of fate, tragedy, and death.

Abbado adheres to Mahler's final word on the subject, placing the Scherzo in the third rather than the second position as Mahler had originally envisioned it and omitting the third hammer blow at the end (perhaps Mahler was superstitious or maybe he just had an afterthought). The second-movement Andante, the lovely theme he wrote for his wife Alma, comes as a welcome respite after the turmoil of the big first movement, and it's here and in the Finale that Abbado comes off best. The Andante is blissfully serene, the Finale torturously determined. The Scherzo is more iffy, not quite as bizarre as I might have liked it. In fact, if I dare criticize any part of this reading, it's that it may be too much of a piece, too unvarying. I rather like the more diversified (some would say erratic or eccentric) renditions of conductors like Barbirolli, Bernstein, Solti, and Horenstein.

Anyway, you'll get no serious gripes from me about anything but the sonics. Abbado and DG appear to insist upon recording everything they do anymore live, and the results here, although by no means unsatisfactory, are not always flattering, either. The acoustic seems to change from time to time, especially the bass, which sounds a little lightweight. The orchestra also seems more distant than necessary, although with a pleasantly realistic sense of depth; and the highs are at times clear and true while at other times soft and dull. Of course, one can hear the audience doing their usual shuffling and wheezing on occasion, although except for the final applause they are never very disturbing.  (To be fair, however, DG offer the closing applause on a separate track, so if you remember you can always program it out before you start.)

The recording is also available on an SACD in multichannel, and I wonder how much of the CD's odd sonics are due to not hearing the rear channels. I don't know, but the glorious Berlin Philharmonic deserve at least a little better.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

Mission Statement

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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa