is the first Mahler release from the LSO Live label and itís most
welcome since, over many years, the London Symphony Orchestra
has built a fine reputation as a Mahler instrument. This is also
the first appearance on their CD label of Mariss Jansons who has
himself been building a similar reputation in Mahler in recent
posts in Oslo and Pittsburgh. The fact that his next musical directorship
is at the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra should tell us that Mahler
is likely to play a very big part in his life for some years to
come. So, well done LSO Live for catching this fluent, expressive
and powerful performance on the wing from two concert performances
in London late in 2002.
is among those conductors who, I believe rightly, sees the first
movement as containing more optimism than pessimism. By doing
so this sets the tragedy to come later in its proper context and
so makes its eventual arrival that much more terrible. Jansons
manages this, like a select band of other conductors, by minding
the classical symphony "shop" Mahler sets out in this
movement. He does this by keeping his tempo "up" enough
to allow things to move along with life and vigour, but held on
course enough to make all the notes tell. Not for Jansons the
world-weary drag of Barbirolli in this movement, but neither a
swift "quick march" like Kubelik or Levi. The effect
of all this is to hear the movement presented "all of a piece"
with minimum changes of tempo or expression for each episode.
It works, as indeed it does through the whole of Jansonsí performance.
Iím sure there are some of you who will feel robbed of your beloved
Mahlerian agony and torture at this early stage, but I think that
would be inappropriate. Even the great second subject upsurge,
the entrance of the lovely Alma, is contained, reined back; that
is until a deft and very effective flourish in the lower strings
pitches a singing line with expressive vibrato, flashing the ladyís
allure as she turns away in a flounce of her skirts. Jansons can
clearly spot the rustle of silk at fifty paces. He can also be
aware of the press of the great events of this movement during
the sublime interlude where cowbells and strings shimmer with
enough lyric allure to throw us off guard but not be surprised
when the martial music comes back with a vengeance. This is an
impressive achievement, as too is the effect of all the threads
being knitted together as the movement marches to conclusion.
False optimism, perhaps, but optimism all the same. The detailed
sound recording means everything is heard, woodwind especially
pungent poking out of the texture, and propelling us to the, very
ambivalence, his dithering, regarding how to order the two middle
movements is well known to Mahlerites but might not be to newcomers
to his music. It needs to be now that a "New Revisionism"
is in the air on this matter. Most recordings and performances
of the work have followed the critical edition of the score published
in the 1960s reflecting how Mahler originally conceived the movement
order - Scherzo second and Andante third. However, even after
the publication of that edition a few conductors have still preferred
to follow the order that Mahler subsequently adopted in the three
performances he gave in his lifetime by placing the Andante second
and the Scherzo third. In all honesty the symphony does work perfectly
well either way which should not be surprising in the light of
Mahlerís actions. So itís quite easy to reflect Mahlerís position
by simply letting conductors choose which way they feel is the
right way going on the historical evidence, some of which is still
emerging. The listener at home can even programme their CD players
to reflect the order that they want. Though I prefer to stick
to whatever order the conductor has chosen even though my own
preference remains for the Scherzo to be placed second. I base
this on a number of reasons, one being that I have experienced
the work that way more often, also on the fact that that was Mahlerís
first thought which, for me, carries a lot of weight. But there
are other reasons, strong ones, to support the movement order
contained in the critical edition - both musical and evidential.
This is a question that will never be answered definitively because
I donít believe there is a definitive answer "out there"
waiting to be found. However I can take Andante-Scherzo if
that is what a conductor prefers. I do believe that the movement
order question needs to be brought to the attention of all listeners
to this work. Especially to newcomers so they can feel part of
the ongoing debate on this already fascinating work and maybe
make it their business to experience it in the alternative way
next time, if possible, and know the anomaly, make it part of
their experience of this work.
is all relevant to the present recording because Mariss Jansons
stands aside from the critical edition and places the Andante
second. I was surprised to find myself reminded here a little
of the Seventh Symphony to come whilst listening. Not something
I expected yet not so strange since both symphonies have kinship
with the "Kindertotenlieder" which were contemporary
with both. I suppose itís in the phrasing that Jansons adopts
and most particularly the darker colouring he finds, certainly
at the start. What Jansons certainly does do is keep the music
moving. Fully aware that this is not an Adagio which seemed to
be the idea behind Michael Tilson Thomas in his recent San Francisco
recording. This movement is essentially a meditation on a very
simple idea and repays a hundred-fold when the conductor applies
a light touch, as Jansons does. I know that some prefer, again,
more angst, more "heart-on-sleeve", but
I firmly believe that this symphonyís classical nature is served
better by some creative detachment.
Scherzo following is suitably truculent with the ungainly gait
marked but not underlined too much. There is some nice detailing
made in the trio sections which make a fine contrast. Notice especially
the LSOís strings in their carefully prepared slides. Again the
detailed recording really helps. Even in the densest textures
everything is transparent. Sometimes the acoustic of The Barbican
has been a definite minus to LSO Live releases. The Bruckner recordings
by Colin Davis are a case in point. In this work, however, Tony
Faulknerís balancing of the hall really works in the musicís favour
right through. Mahlerís Sixth benefits from a close-in sound like
this and gives it a brittle quality that it needs.
the Sixth all roads lead to the fourth movement and any performance
or recording really needs something special from conductor and
players to crown the drama of this great work. In "live"
performance recordings this is sometimes a problem because to
play this thirty minute piece of such challenging dimensions after
having played the preceding three stretches the greatest orchestras
to breaking point. I can only say that the LSO rises to the challenge
and passes it with flying colours, compelling from start to finish.
The amazing opening passage is brilliantly projected, balanced
excellently by Jansons and his engineer and once the main allegro
gets underway the powerful, driving logic behind Jansonsís conception
becomes crystal clear - as crystal clear as the sound balance.
Holding fast to the symphonic line, as he did in the first movement,
the tension that Jansons conveys is palpable and never flags and
you know that it comes from within the music, is not imposed from
outside it. Time and again Jansonsís grasp of the long movementís
geography pays dividends. Listen to how he stunningly relates
the cowbells episodes here to those in the first movement and
the Andante, knitting the drama together. But hear too at the
passage leading to the first hammer-blow the way that the lower
strings dig deep and, soon after, the magnificent LSO horn section
cutting through the texture like thermic lances and then, immediately
before the hammer comes down, the woodwind choir squealing for
all they are worth before the hammer finally obliterates them.
The sound of the hammer on this recording is, by the way, excellent.
Not too loud, but loud enough to sound distinctive. There are
just the two hammers, as Mahler finally decided, but the passage
where the third blow used to be, leading to the great, dark coda
is delivered with thrilling inevitability. Such profound inevitability
is coursing through the musicís veins by now that a third hammer
blow would have spoilt it, overdone it, and so damaged the great
crash that brings the symphony to its final, horrifying whimper.
the low price asked this recording should be on every Mahleriteís
shelf along with Thomas Sanderlingís (RS 953-0186) with which
I deal in detail in my survey of Sixth recordings:
which remains my top recommendation just ahead of Gunther Herbig
on Berlin Classics (0094612BC) reviewed here:
Gielen (Hännsler CD 93.029) reviewed here:
deserves serious consideration for the leading recommendations
for this symphony. Those who want their Mahler Sixth more overtly
emotional, more melodramatic, will look elsewhere to Bernstein
on Sony or DG or Tennstedt or Rattle on EMI. But I will remain
faithful to the classically conceived, symphonically aware approach
to tragedy well exemplified here by Mariss Jansons and will certainly
return to this.
and power with a purpose - a lean and clean Mahler machine.