Antonio Pappano opted to mark the recent Mahler anniversaries in Rome rather than in London, which was the UK's loss and Italy's gain if this pulverising live recording of the Sixth is anything to go by. His expansive approach to the first three movements won't be to everyone's taste, though it often yields surprising results. The opening march initially seems too measured and solemn, but when Pappano reaches the development section, its nightmarish relentlessness gets worryingly under your skin. The Scherzo has rarely sounded as implacable as it does here, though the Andante, in contrast, feels altogether too laid back, until its final climax where Pappano suddenly unleashes a maelstrom that takes your breath away. Thereafter, it's as if Pappano lets himself off his own leash, allowing the Finale to rear and plunge towards near-apocalyptic horror. The recording itself is thrilling, if warts-and-all, with Pappano singing along, while the audience cough and splutter between movements.
Tim Ashley is a Guardian classical and opera critic, though he's also keen on literature and philosophy so you might sometimes find him cross-referencing all three. His work has also appeared in Literary Review and Opera magazine and he is author of a biography of Richard Strauss