Those of you who read my review of the first volume of Lorin Maazel’s Philharmonia Orchestra set of Mahler’s Symphonies will already know that I first became aware of him as a superb interpreter of this composer in the 1960s on hearing the now legendary broadcast of the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1960 and have continued to be profoundly impressed ever since.
This latest set of discs contains two of the Symphonies that were amongst the greatest successes of his Vienna Philharmonic Mahler recordings from the 1980s. The Fourth and Sixth both of which seem, along with the Seventh, to have been long time Maazel favourites and in which his sure hand never failed. And indeed that is the case here.
For many Mahlerians the Fourth is almost a lightweight sunny work full of youthful innocence. If that is what you are looking for then I am afraid you will be disappointed. The older Maazel found real darkness in this Symphony and the intensity of the slow movement is both typical of late Maazel and in marked contrast with other, more relaxed views of this enigmatic music. The finale, although with wonderful aspects, is let down by an adequate if somewhat bland Sarah Fox. This is a long way from the glorious singing of Kathleen Battle in Maazel’s Vienna recording.
Perhaps the greatest performance of the Fifth that I have ever heard is a broadcast from 1972 of Maazel and the RSO Berlin. The almost mesmerizing strength and passion of that account is not quite replicated here but what we do have is a reading of immense grandeur and eloquence worthy, and one is carried along by the sheer concentration generated throughout, not least the fabulous way in which he winds up the first movement is not only classic Maazel but also a real tribute to the virtuosity of the Philharmonia Orchestra whose playing is absolutely faultless.
As I have said, the Sixth was a Maazel specialty and I have been fortunate to hear him conduct it on many occasions. This is a truly great performance. This Symphony has had a number of supreme interpreters including Karajan, Abbado and Bernstein. Maazel is in their league. This is such a shattering performance of this masterpiece that I can only urge everyone to hear it and prepare themselves for an experience quite out the ordinary.
Throughout this set one is constantly reminded that, late in life (he died in July 2014 at the age of 84), Maazel took an expansive but at the same time grand and intense view of these masterworks. The London concerts were a true revelation and so I approached these discs aware that what seemed miraculous on the night may not have translated into repeated listening. I need not have worried. This second volume, along with the first, is a treasured set on my shelves. I cannot wait for the final volume, Symphonies 7-9.
As before the discs are very well presented in three jewel-cases inside an outer slipcase. The recorded sound is a true representation of the Royal Festival Hall as a venue and Signum’s annotation includes the text and a translation of the last movement of Symphony No.4