Masterful Mahler

An absolutely incredible live recording of Mahler's Sixth. They really don't get any more passionate than this one!

Composer: Mahler

Repertoire: Symphony No. 6
Artists: National Academy of St Cecilia Orchestra/ Antonio Pappano
Rating: 5/5

Genre: Orchestral

Label: EMI Classics 0844132

The Music: Alban Berg reckoned Maher’s Sixth was ‘the only sixth, despite Beethoven’s “Pastoral”’. Mahler himself described the symphony as ‘yet another hard nut, one that our critics’ feeble-like teeth cannot crack.’ Well Gustav, I’ve always enjoyed drilling my molars into your cosmic four-movement structure, with its recurring fate motif and eerie disintegration of material at the end. So there.

The Performance: EMI Classics makes no bones – this is a live recording, a very live recording, complete with the occasional orchestral blooper and audience rustle between movements. And what a performance! Pappano treats Mahler’s opening movement with a restraint that reveals the itchy energy inside: windows of relative tranquillity torpedoed by the re-appearance of his fatalistic opening; brass and percussion terror. By placing the Scherzo before the Andante (some conductors opt to reverse that order), Pappano builds towards a finale with a sense of the inscrutable and a pile-driver bite.

The Verdict: An account of Mahler’s Sixth served straight from the soul. Great orchestral playing too – check out the music-box nostalgia Pappano evokes from woodwind and celeste at 18’50’’ in the first movement. 

Want More? Recorded live at the Lucerne Festival in 2010, Pierre Boulez places Mahler’s Sixth in the context of Webern and Stravinsky (Accentus, ACC 30230).