Mahler: Symphony no. 6
Christoph Eschenbach, conducting
Review by: Robert Zierolf
His Sixth is the most personal of Mahler's symphonies. Mahler himself
labeled it "The Tragic," and without going overboard as is often
done with Mahler's psyche as imbedded in his works, one cannot dismiss
the cowbells he heard while on rural retreats in summers or the hammer blows
as religious and fateful expressions of his musical conception of life. Alma
makes an appearance as well. The symphony had a difficult beginning, with revisions
and reordering of movements by Mahler and others. This version is preferable
for integrity of form and affect.
The performance lasts more than 90 minutes, with the last movement taking 30
of them. Eschenbach both understands Mahler and is able to convince the musicians
of his intuition and imagination. Solo, ensemble, and full orchestra playing
is uniformly superb, with attention to the myriad subtleties as well as the
massively overt power. Recordings by Chailly, Gielen, and a few others can legitimately
be called rivals, but this one is at least as definitive to date. Of them all,
Eschenbach's offers the most challenges and increased satisfaction with
repeated listening. Fortunately, the quality of sound matches the quality of
the score and performance.
A welcome and unusual addition to the symphony is Mahler's only chamber
music, the Piano Quartet from his student days. It's being programmed
more these days, with good reason, and Eschenbach with a trio from the Philadelphia
Orchestra capture the classical framework that Mahler never quite left behind
even when infusing his symphonic music with his personal worldview.
Zierolf is Professor of Music Theory and
History and Division head of Composition,
Musicology, and Theory at the College-Conservatory
of Music, University of Cincinnati. He is
also a freelance writer on classical music.