ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 6

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GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 6 - Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks - Daniel Harding (Conductor) - 4035719001327 - Released: November 2015 - BR-Klassik 900132

In a previous review for a recording of Daniel Harding conducting Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10 (reviewed here), Stephen Habington points out that it is "the most refined recording of this work ever committed to disc". Could the "Vienna" component have swayed Harding's account in that direction? Because let me just state right from the start, that this new recording of the Symphony No. 6 in A minor is anything but refined. It's one of the most intense, raw, ferocious and exhilarating accounts I've ever heard. And the fact that this is a 'live' recording even adds an extra degree of nervous electric energy to the mix.

If you look past the 'tragic' subtitle and the final movement's 'blows of fate', which seem to have shrouded this symphony with shuddersome elements of dread and mystery, it's readily apparent that this work is written on a monumental scale, with each and every part and each and every instrument, down to the cowbells, playing an integral role in the dénouement of its complex narrative. Harding clearly delineates the 'Alma' theme from the generally oppressive martial nature of the first movement, and then impressively melds the two together in a blissful union of opposing forces in the end. The Andante moderato movement is beautifully done, the 'spook' elements of the opening pages of the final movement quite effective, and the aforementioned 'blows of fate' are bang on (pun intended). There's actually a great photograph inside the booklet of a percussionist swinging the huge contraption used to produce those earth shattering thuds. And the cover of the CD is an actual reproduction of the graph which captured the increase in heart rate of the musicians as the hammer came down during the concert.

I've heard countless recordings of this great symphony over the years, and yet there are many elements that Daniel Harding brings out in this performance that I had never heard or noticed beforehand. There is an enormous ammount of activity in the background of this score that he seems to bring forward a bit more than usual and to great effect, most particularly the somewhat menacing aspect to the sound of the low brass and woodwind instruments at various points of the work. That effect, most impressively done during the final two minutes of the symphony, will send shivers down your back, just as the symphony breathes its final, convulsive gasp.

Below is a short video clip of the opening movement from a previous concert with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Daniel Harding, which well demonstrates this symphony's complex inner mechanics.

Jean-Yves Duperron - February 2016