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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Abbado

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Reviews: 10

Site review by Castor May 19, 2005
Performance:   Sonics:    
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Site review by akiralx October 1, 2005
Performance:   Sonics:  
Abbado leads a vigorous and fresh account of Mahler's most classical symphony - and gives us an interpretation that leans more towards a classical approach than the phantasmagorial style we often get in this symphony. Whether that is a loss or a gain is up to you - but I found it very enjoyable. The Berlin playing throughout is superb.

The opening Allegro energico is given an ideal tempo, and the whole movement comes off very well, with an opulent treatment of the Alma-inspired second subject. In fact the whole performance gets better as it progresses - although I do have one slight caveat: I found the Andante a tad too swift and occasionally too improvisatory in style, with a few gear changes that don't sound entirely natural, although I had fewer reservations on a second listening. Also the slightly strange prominence of the horn sounds rather similar to its presence in the Scherzo of the Fifth Symphony. Karajan is still my ideal in the Andante.

The Scherzo is superbly done with ideally prominent timpani - in fact all the percussion throughout (snare drums, cow bells, glockenspiel and hammer blows especially) are very vividly presented in the sonic picture.

Generally speaking the sound is very pleasing, warm and with good depth, though it doesn't match Tilson Thomas's version (also live) in terms of width of soundstage. That fine SACD set does however suffer with rather too much rear channel emphasis (I turned them down by 4dB), as well as a few of MTT's Lenny-like interpretative decisions which may bother others more than they do me. Abbado's recording is perhaps most remarkable for its translucency - you will hear more detail here than in in most recordings, I think. And the multi-channel mix is rather more refined, though overall I would rate MTT's as its equal.

The Finale begins in a suitably malignant mood (if not as much as in Chailly's excellent account on Decca) but then settles down slightly to give less of the phantasmagoria I referred to earlier. All in all, it's very satisfying. The applause is given a separate track, though as it's hardly euphoric I'm not sure why they bothered.

A recommendable set, though I wouldn't prefer it to MTT, even though the latter plays the central movements in the wrong order, Scherzo first - though with only the Finale on the second disc that can be amended. Abbado gets it right and (deliberately?) splits the work after the Andante to prevent any external musicological meddling...

Site review by Polly Nomial April 4, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:    
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Review by Oscar June 13, 2005 (2 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Abbado has always been an interesting Mahler conductor. In the last 3 or 4 years he has improved dramatically, as one of the very few, ever, to have genuine insights into this fascinating music.

He lets the music breathe, playing down the overt drama ever present on this symphony, erhaps the most dramatic of all the Mahler symphonic opus. His quest for the new sonorities Mahler was looking for, and trying out is the key to this present day Mahler interpretation. Mahler from the perspective of the Vienna Second School ( a repertoire Abbado favours a lot). THis does not mean that his music making is cold, or detached. But the detalis of a sophisticated viewpoint are all there. Not as radical as Michel Gielen, for example (in his excellent set ).

The BPO sound quite fine. And this SACD highlights the huge dinamic range of this interpretation.
Although the sound is not razor-sharp, it is quite adequate, givin and excellent sonical perspective of the music, depth and richness to the lower frequencies.

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Review by aoqd22 June 21, 2005 (2 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Summer promotions are great! On special offer I thought this sacd hybrid issue of Mahler's so-called 'Tragic' symphony a good buy. I enjoyed it. Mind you not quite sure if it eclipses Karajan's 1978 performance on DG 'The Originals' that I have had in my collection for a number of years.

The BPO play wonderfully and their depth of skill & polish throughout the ranks comes across. The recording for my taste (I was listening to the CD Audio track) could have been a touch more closely miked to give that added impact. However, I do appreciate the engineer's job was not an easy one what with cowbells offstage and hammer blows to deal with. For me from the Scherzo onwards the performance really comes alive - not quite sure why - did wonder if the first disc comes from one performance and disc two another.

The discs come in the new style jewel case with flip tray allowing storage back-to-back and not on top of each other like the recent RCA reissue of Munch's Berlioz Requiem. Thanks to DG for this but please do something because if you have the jewel case open and the discs 'flipped' to the left you cannot close the thing!

The real tragedy is this performance could not be squeezed onto one disc. No problems then about programming your player to play the middle two movements in your preferred sequence. It has been done a few times before though I appreciate not on sacd. It would have made all the difference. I long for the day we can hear not only this symphony but say Verdi's Requiem without having to get up to change discs.

On balance then a wonderful well recorded performance but not one that will prompt me to disgard my 1978 Karajan.

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Review by peteyspambucket July 15, 2005 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I've always enjoyed Abbado's work with Mahler. I liked his old cycle, also on the DG label. This new recording with the BPO raises the bar of my admiration even more.

The performance is idiomatic and very colorful. The details in the heavily orchestrated passages of the first and last movements are astounding. Little details like an impossibly fast viola passage just pop right out in clarity that can only be heard in a concert hall. I like the pace of every movement, although the Andante disappointingly does not have as much feeling as I have heard it from others. Abbado tends to move things along rather swiftly rather than slowing down for some milking out some extra orchestral color and emotion, but overall I liked the interpretation. The playing from the orchestra is precise and exciting. The wind and brass overtones are just gorgeous. I didn't like some of the interpretive choices such as slurring of string notes where there are marcato markings, and also there's a very curious missing Hammerschlag a few bars before 165 in the last movement. (The last orchestral burst does not call for Hammer.) Anyway, it's still a wonderful and exciting performance worth hearing.

The sound is excellent given that I haven't lately enjoyed DG's SACDs much lately. The nice thing here is the dynamic range. You can really turn this up and become enveloped in the BPO acoustic. One of the Hammerschlag's actually was so loud on top of the volume I'd already had it at, I was really surprised. I think my heart must have skipped a beat! The rear channels have little more than some ambient detail. The percussion section is captured very well and in an excellent balance (that isn't "over-bassy") -- instruments like xylophone, bells, and timpani stand out really strongly in the soundstage. If there's anything I wished this recording had more of it would be an even wider soundstage so that I could have a greater sense of space. There's a lot of information in the center channel and not enough unique information on the left and right channels. (Although, I could tell that the hammer is on the left and the rest of the percussion is on the right.) I would have also wanted more information from the rears.

I think this is the best Mahler 6th on SACD, and while it doesn't have a natural sound like MTT's, this is still the one to get because of the performance. The Zander and Boulez recordings left me cold. Based on my hearings of Chailly's RBCD version, it could be in interesting contender should it be released as an SACD. I'd still like the Hannsler label to release some of Michael Gielen's Mahler symphony recordings on SACD or for DG to remaster the Bernstein, which I love so much.

RECOMMENDED if you must have a Mahler 6th on SACD now.

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Review by dschawv July 8, 2006 (3 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
OK-I am not sure if this recording assures Abbado's place in history.
The recording team did an average job on this symphony. Abbado's interpretation was above average certainly.
But, I have found Solti and Jansons even better.
The SACD mix was OK-not great.

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Executive Summary:

Those who find Zander's Sixth too willful probably take better to a generally gentler approach to the Sixth. They should be sent to Boulez first, but if they still like more beauty and serenity, they will want to explore the category of recordings by Abbado, Jansons and Ivan Fischer. Claudio Abbado’s most recent recording with the Berlin Philharmonic has been hyped, hailed, and awarded. The Gramophone and The Financial Times both raved about it.

It wasn’t much to my liking when I reviewed it and it isn’t now. It’s good and excellently played and it’s mild and gentle, genteel and polished – and unfortunately also quite listless, if not comatose. Not much better is Mariss Jansons’ first recording on the LSO live label. Again an excellent and high standard of playing that ultimately lead no further than momentary pleasure; possibly less. His new recording of the same work, this time on the RCO live label, sounds better but still has the same effect on me with its rounded corners and politeness. The one recording that aims for beauty and long lines and good behavior but immediately involves and shakes you up is Ivan Fischer’s with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Scherzo third, like all the above… ditto two Hammerblows, but with rhythmic insight and feeling that it is a complete joy. In SACD- or regular sound, this is a winner.


Long(er) Review:

Claudio Abbado’s Mahler is always an event. “The Return of the Former King,” remarked a Berlin newspaper, noting Abbado’s first concert with the Berlin Philharmonic since he stepped down from his post as music director in 2002. The result was this Mahler 6th – a further step towards a complete (?) Mahler cycle of Abbado’s recorded with the Berliners in live performances. Although Abbado’s Mahler seldom strikes me as the most notable performance of any particular Mahler symphony (his accounts of the 7th, both with Chicago and Berlin, excepted), I’d declare the Italian maestro the supreme Mahler conductor of our times in a heartbeat.

Generally, Abbado combines an uncanny ability for lyrical lines with complete mastery of the rhythmic subtleties and insights that allow for superior absorption of the music. He never sacrifices the emotional content in favor of analytical rigor – yet he can hardly be accused of wringing every last ounce of feeling out of the notes (à la la Bernstein – not that there’s anything wrong with that… in Mahler, at any rate). Barbirolli brings more rawness; Zander a zanier punch; Bernstein dances and brings the Jewish elements to the fore; MTT has some of the finest touches when it comes to dramatic arch and unending lines; Boulez analyzes like none other, offering tremendous insights; Chailly knows all about orchestral polish. What has Abbado here that others don’t? Try him for his unimposing grasp of the music, his quiet, absolute authority, and the commitment he gets from the players in his orchestra, down to the last fiddler and the fourth flute.

There’s humanity in his Mahler – and a universal message rather than a singular point of view. Sometimes that is more obvious (apart from the aforementioned 7ths, in the 2nd from Lucerne and 3rd from Berlin), sometimes less (5th and 9th from Berlin). This 6th symphony, perhaps the hardest to enjoy upon initial meeting, is a fierce struggle between life and optimism on one side and death and resignation on the other. It’s hard on our senses, but with several listenings it will invariably yield meaning. Indeed, to me it’s like an open book compared to the 7th which I find rather more impenetrable. Perhaps it is graspable because of it being designed like a classical symphony – though of a size and with outgrowths as if it had vacationed on Three Mile Island. The last movement alone is longer than anything Brahms ever wrote.

The 6th also contains two favorite debate items for Mahlerians. Should the Scherzo – so similar to the opening Allegro - be played as the second movement (as Mahler composed it and initially published the score) or after the falsely calm Andante as the third movement (as Mahler always performed it himself)? The other point that gets the Mahler-lover all excited is the question of whether to employ two or three ‘Hammer-blows’ in the finale. These crushing thumps (for which Mahler had a specially constructed device in mind) symbolizes (none too subtle at that) the ‘cutting down’, the felling of the symphony’s hero in midstride. Once – and he gets back up, marching on with determination. Twice – getting up, still… and seemingly overcoming adversity again. And then, the third blow falls, and this time for good – a final, fatal blow. Each one of these blows should go to the bone of the chilled listener. Mahler composed the third – but withdrew it before the first performance. Superstition – fear of its prophetic power? – is the often credited reason for that decision, at least by those who restore that awful, terrifying third blow.

The first controversy is somewhat muted by the programmability of our CD player but remains an important point in live performances (and presumably recordings of live performances). Abbado opts for “Mahler the Performer” and takes the Andante first. I myself am agnostic on the issue. Or rather: ignorant enough to side with whoever's good explanation for either choice I have heard most recently. If Abbado says "Andante first," then so be it.

When it comes to the hammer blows though, I am in the camp that demands three. I don’t find the effect cheap but overwhelming instead. The “superstition argument” strikes me as very plausible. After all, this concerns the man who even tried to avoid writing a 9th symphony – by wedging Das Lied between the 8th and "9th" – for fear of the precedence set by Beethoven, Dvořák, and Bruckner). The argument that the third blow should be “imagined” – expected but withheld – does not jive with me, either. Not only is it hard for me to imagine something so real and specific on the account of its absence, but the third blow itself does not come at the ‘expected’ time anyway. Rather, it is delayed by a few bars, opening hope for a few seconds that the pinnacle has been successfully passed after all… only to strike all the harder, more devastatingly into the hero’s neck when no longer expected. I get goosebumps just thinking about it… and am not wont to give it up in my ideal 6th.

Unfortunately – for me – Abbado does; dampening my excitement about this installment by a good margin. It isn’t for that reason, though, that I can’t warm up to this recording altogether. It’s too nice, not gripping enough; it tells a story, rather than living it. It is in complete (but not necessarily good) contrast to the foam-at-the-mouth Barbirolli 6th. The sound is good for a live recording, but too murky to enthuse; pianissimos too subtle to hear or notice in regular listening mode. To hear the final notes – plucked A’s in the strings – I had to put on headphones and crank the stereo all the way up. Winds and strings are often surprisingly indistinct from one another.

I want to rave about Abbado’s Mahler, but this release does not give me much to play with in this issue. Perhaps the surround sound SACD, just issued, improves the matter, but I doubt anything will turn this into my favorite 6th, yet. (Apparently, the dynamic level is low on the SACD, too.) Maybe I am missing something here, as I've heard others love this recording, but I just don't know what it is. Those who don't like the rushing, unsubtle, and clipped Zander recording might find their match here. An Abbado fan won’t be talked out of this by my review (I could not even talk myself out of it), because the playing and the long lines are superb, anyway… but it’s certainly no first sixth and not altogether recommended.

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Review by Disbeliever May 15, 2011 (0 of 19 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Great recording, & performance, sensible pricing.

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Review by Oliver_twist March 2, 2015 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I am no specialist of mahler's work. It is therefore difficult for me to express a clear judgment on Abbado's interpretation, especially compared to the other reviewers. Everybody knows Claudio Abbado, and the Berliner Philharmoniker doesn't need any introduction. So let's agree with the other reviewers and say it is a very nice performance.
Would I recommend this cd ? Maybe. Would I recommend this Sacd ? No.
From an audiophile point of view, it is not worth a lot. The quality of the recording itself is not very good, so why pressing sacd out of this master ? CDs would have been good enough. Frankly, this is a 2004 recording and I have heard 1950s recording that sound better (cf Living stereo The Song of the Eart). The multichannel layer bring a little surround experience so you are surrounded by a bad sounding orchestra. What's the point ? The original material is 48khz/24bits. I really don't understand the point of extracting dsd tracks out of that, especially when comparing it to good DSD recordings like Telarc's Mahler 6 with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Zander. There is no comparison possible.
So to make it short:
If you want THE Mahler 6, go buy an RBCD you will have much more choice among lots of excellent performances by world famous conductors and orchestras, maybe even a better Abbado recording or at least a cheaper one.
If you want a recording of exceptional quality, then don't waste your time with DG, better look at lso gergiev, po zander, bfo fischer, sfso tilson thomas, toz zinman. Frankly all sacds of mahler I heard sound better.

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