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Once again, I can say that I’ve been privileged to witness
a live performance of a symphony by Gustav Mahler(1860-1911),
and I wasn’t even in the audience. The performance of Mahler’s
“Sixth Symphony”
by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, under the
baton of Claudio Abbado was that good!

As with the performances of Mahler’s “Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3″
that I’ve witnessed by these same forces in the same venue,
there was again a sense of community, and the orchestra played
as if their lives depended upon their performances. Maestro Abbado’s
interpretation included carefully gauged tempi, indicative of his
exemplary planning, and I found precious little to fault here.

Interestingly, Abbado chose to play the Andante Moderato
movement as the second movement. It is usually played as
the third movement. However, I believe that the jury is still out
regarding the “authenticity” of this practice, and Mahler scholars
are still debating their interpretations of the composer’s final
wishes. Several years ago, I saw Michael Tilson Thomas
conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a performance of this
work. At that time, he also chose to play the movements as
Abbado did here. I personally prefer the standard practice of
placing the Scherzo of this symphony as the second movement.

Nevertheless, the beauty of the Andante Moderato movement
never ceases to amaze me, and it always brings tears to my
eyes. A hallmark of this all-star orchestra was the tone quality
and control they achieved while playing very softly, which was
proven in this movement.

However, as in their performance of Mahler’s “Third Symphony,”
I do wish that the brass and the horns, in particular, had
“cut loose” a bit more at times, thereby creating a more exciting
and thrilling performance. The recording engineers could have
been responsible for this. At the same time, the performance
was still well recorded. In fact, I particularly enjoyed one aspect of
this work wherein the hammer was struck twice, during the last
movement. The hammer blows sounded like cannon shots, and
the recording engineers captured them well.

I won’t play the “comparison game,” and try to rank this
performance against the other recordings that I’ve heard,
but I can say that it would be at or near the top, in most respects.

I also would have preferred that the camera work featured more
shots of the entire woodwind and brass sections individually,
not to mention the percussion section. His “Sixth Symphony”
requires more wind and percussion players than any other
purely instrumental Mahler symphony, primarily in the mighty
final movement, and the audience should be made aware of this.
For example, I don’t recall footage of all eight horns during
this performance, and the six trumpets were rarely if ever shown,
when they were needed in the last movement. Otherwise, like
everything else on this DVD, the camera work was quite good.

This 2007 release on the EuroArts label is another “must see”
for “Mahlerites,” and I’m eagerly looking forward to watching the
other Mahler symphonies in this series.