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WGUC Reviews

Mahler: Symphony no. 6

Mahler: Symphony no. 6
Philadelphia Orchestra
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.


Sound Quality:

Robert 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.


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