Mahler
Symphony No.6
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Antonio Pappano

Recorded 8, 10 & 11 January 2011 in Sala Santa Cecilia, Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome
CD No: EMI 0 84413 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 85 minutes
Reviewed: October 2011
Antonio Pappano gets the tempo of the first movement of Mahler 6 absolutely right. It has to be deliberate, suggesting a traveller determined on his course, battling against the elements, a heavy load on his back, yet finding the energy to be resolved in his journey while taking succour from the remembrance of love, the glowing emergence of ‘Alma’s Theme’. This is exactly the image that Pappano and his superb St Cecilia musicians present – and again when the exposition is repeated: the crossing and reminiscences continue. Some mountain-high respite (Mahler’s composing hut and his own excursions were in the region of the Dolomites), with cowbells, and excellent from-Rome horn and violin solos, offers some pure mountain air, before further bruising confrontations continue until a triumphant if hard-won victory.
Is it the scherzo or the slow movement second? Well, the former. Yet the rarefied atmosphere of the Andante seems more convincing after the vindication of the first movement, and before we return to earth (with a bump) should the scherzo be the third movement. Although the composer was uncertain as to the middle movements’ positioning (hence the ongoing conundrum) all performances in his lifetime had the Andante played as the second movement (see link below), yet Pappano’s appropriately ‘heavy’ treatment of the scherzo continues the ‘mood’ of its predecessor very convincingly. When the slow movement is reached, Pappano is more ‘moderato’ than Andante, finding time for richly poetic and contemplative expression, reaching outwards and upwards in the final, ecstatic, climax; here and elsewhere antiphonally placed second violins are both wonderfully independent and entwining .
With the vast, self-destructive finale, launched fairly attacca, Pappano seems to suggest that our hero is still riding high; the opening is less-ominous than from other interpretations, an element of jauntiness even appearing, but Pappano the master of theatre knows just were this music is going – and that is straight to a devastating first hammer-blow ... from there the trajectory is downhill, if musically glorious, and the performance remains elevated in terms of playing, intensity, detailing and perceptions. Mahler 6 is one of the greatest of symphonies and one of the most revealing personal chronicles in music. This compilation of live performances gives a thrilling and moving version – although the very final chord is ragged (a stray, late, pizzicato from a double bass) and a mobile seems to ring at 21’04” in the first movement – captured in a recording that, if a little blowsy, is vivid and vibrant. Pappano’s is very high up the list of recorded recommendations of Mahler 6, not quite “the only Sixth, despite the Pastoral”, but we know what Alban Berg meant.

 

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