Revelatory is the only possible description
Amazon.com - Bob Zeidler
Gustav Mahler's "middle" symphonies, the 5th through the 7th, are said to be full of "structural problems" and to be "tough nuts to crack." Of these three, the 6th is likely the most difficult for the newcomer to Mahler, largely because of its "Tragic" subtext and its almost manic shifts from sublime beauty to bleak sadness to shocking, ringing tragedy and back again. More than any other Mahler symphony, this is the one which most requires conductorial and performance expertise almost without equal if it is to be properly realized.
For well over a decade, Leonard Bernstein's DGG recording, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, had been my preferred version, by a very comfortable margin, over several other Mahler 6th's in my library. But, beginning about a year or so ago, word started to filter out regarding this Zander performance as being "the one to get." It was largely in the form of "street talk" in various music journals and magazines, with a sentence dropped here, a paragraph there. When I received Zander's recording of the Mahler 9th, on Telarc, and reviewed it elsewhere at Amazon.com, I became aware that he is a Mahlerian of potentially unlimited insight and abilities. Then, barely a week ago, we had the pleasure of seeing Zander conduct his Boston Philharmonic Orchestra in a well-thought-out program of Beethoven, Mahler and Schoenberg, and this album was on sale at the concert. I jumped at the opportunity.
This is an incredible, absolutely stunning and shattering, performance, in my humble opinion leagues ahead of Bernstein's (which I tend to refer to as "Bernstein II." since he had also recorded it earlier in his career, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on Columbia, now Sony). Zander's Boston Philharmonic, thoroughly professional in its capabilities, is nonetheless an interesting mix of young professionals, students (largely from the New England Conservatory), and advanced amateurs. They perform within an inch of their lives here, and the results show it. Recorded at a live performance at Jordan Hall in Boston, the sound is spectacular, and the audience reaction at the conclusion of the performance was much like it was at the live recorded performance by Zander of Mahler's 9th: Totally emotionally drained, with nearly a full minute of silence after the final dying-out ppp tuba note that ends the work before they could recover their equilibrium and summon their energies for the applause.
Written during one of the happiest periods of Mahler's life, this symphony is nonetheless "Tragic" in all its implications. As performed by Zander, it is not at all a "tough nut to crack" and no structural problems whatsoever are in evidence. Clearly, it was Mahler's intent, prophetic as it turned out to be, to compose a work which in every way was the intentional antithesis of Richard Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben", and he succeeded beyond measure, writing music of great and melting beauty mixed with incredible tragedy, at a skill level not evident in his earlier work, truly a symphonic watershed in his career. Mahler's Hero, unlike Strauss's, is mortally felled in the final movement of this work, with the cumulative effect of three hammer blows, which Zander renders with shock and intensity beyond measure, and the final brass chord, which had earlier been a "major-minor seal" which fell from major to minor throughout the work, failing to do so, being the minor alone, again with an intensity I've never experienced. The prophecy of the three hammer blows, to Mahler, was realized later, with the death of his older daughter, the diagnosis of his heart disease, and with the loss of his directorship of the Vienna Opera. His wife and helpmeet, Alma, was to later state that he should never have tempted fate so determinedly, in what did in fact turn out to be a series of tragic self-fulfilling prophesies unseeable and unknowable at the time of the symphony's composition.
Let me make this quite plain: If you call yourself a Mahlerite, this performance belongs in your library.
***** Five stars