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Mahler 6 - Another Triumph

Christian Wildhagen, Fono Forum, September 2003

If there is a conductor whom one expects to bring something new to Mahler, then it is Benjamin Zander. The British conductor has distinguished himself already with recordings of the Ninth, Fifth, and especially the Fourth, and now with the Sixth he has scored yet another triumph. Under Zander one experiences the work as something radically original, just as, perhaps, it once sounded under Mahler's direction: reveling in details, with the utmost devotion and boundless emotionality. The impression of authenticity is enhanced by Zander's predilection for positioning the violins left and right, which yields an unsuspected bonus in polyphonic clarity. Above and beyond this, Zander makes quite clear in his customary discussion disc that accompanies the recording that he is well acquainted with the programmatic aspects of the music. Rarely has the Vision of the Beyond in the first movement (from 12'40") sounded so atmospheric. One is dumbstruck by the inexhaustible richness of Mahler?s orchestration, which in this reading makes itself felt graphically as it does in few others.

It goes without saying that Zander observes the structurally important repeat in the first movement, and the Scherzo, rightly placed as second movement, is continuously transformed under Zander from dance of death to an idyll of children at play. The rubato in the second movement is introduced with the most extraordinary sensitivity, the transition passages are structured by the harmony in the most marvelous way. And in the Finale Zander defends Mahler from himself, as it were, by reintroducing the third hammer blow, and he even plays the string passage at 15'47" an octave lower than written. That may be a sacrilege, but if so, then an exceedingly instructive one. For, from the point of view of drama (and meaning) the version with the three "Blows of Fate" is more convincing than the later version. For all skeptics, the second CD contains the Finale in the revised version. In any case: an important lesson and a significant contribution to the world of Mahler performance.

(Original version in German:)

...Selbstredend beachtet Zander die strukturell wichtige Wiederholung im Kopfsatz, und das Scherzo – zu Recht an zweiter Stelle – changiert bei ihm ständig zwischen Totentanz und Kinderspielidylle. Äußerst feinsinnig wird das Rubato im Andante eingesetzt, die Übergänge sind wunderbar harmonisch gestaltet. Und im Finale verteidigt Zander Mahler gleichsam gegen sich selbst, indem er den gestrichenen dritten Hammerschlag wieder einsetzt und schon die Streicherpassage ab 15'47'' eine Oktave tiefer spielt. Das mag ein Sakrileg sein – aber ein überaus lehrreiches. Denn dramaturgisch (und inhaltlich) überzeugt die Fassung mit den drei »Schicksalsschlägen« fast mehr als die spätere. Für alle Skeptiker enthält die zweite CD das Finale zu alledem noch in der revidierten Version. In jedem Falle: Eine Lehr- und Sternstunde in Sachen Mahler.


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