Mahler: Symphony No 6 review – Currentzis brings urgency and red-blooded glitz

Teodor Currentzis and his MusicAeterna’s take on Mahler 6 is engaging and highly coloured, if not one for the traditionalists
(Sony)

Bang, bang, bang go the opening bass notes of Mahler’s Symphony No 6, an insistent thud that readies the nerves for turbulence ahead. Turbulence is what we expect from this, the first Mahler recording from conductor Teodor Currentzis and his Russian orchestra MusicAeterna. On all their previous discs – Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Rameau – their interpretations have had an element of surprise, and yet, Currentzis is not quite the iconoclast he’s sometimes made out to be – it’s more that he appears able to shoulder the weight of accumulated performing tradition and then, decisively, shrug it off. What would be really interesting is to hear him and his orchestra tackle a big work that doesn’t drag that weight of history with it – to invigorate a piece that really does need their attentions. For now, though, Currentzis is concentrating on acknowledged masterpieces, and if you can imagine a Mahler 6 in which the urgency and raw edge of Roger Norrington rubs up against the red-blooded glitz of Leonard Bernstein, this is it.

Currentzis shapes the music in forensic detail, luxuriating in an orchestra full of wind soloists who never seem to need to breathe. From those crisp opening thuds onwards, this doesn’t seem like a performance that is conceived on any kind of long-form scale, and yet the catharsis at the end, as defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory, is certainly there. The spacious and slightly bathroomy recording acoustic makes for some distant, sweetly nostalgic horn solos. Currentzis puts the slow movement third – following Mahler’s earliest thoughts rather than his later convictions – and opts for two hammer blows of fate in the finale rather than three. Everything is highly coloured; the kaleidoscope turns to offer fleeting glimpses of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, even Mozart. It’s a constantly engaging performance that seems to encompass the whole musical world. The most idiosyncratic passages, though, are when Mahler brings on the cowbells – they somehow sound more Himalayan than Alpine, and the celesta is so dominant as to add a hint of sci-fi. Does it sound like quintessential Mahler? Not really.

This week’s other picks

If quintessential Mahler is what you want from a recording, then also out this week is Daniel Harding’s disc of Mahler’s Symphony No 5 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Harding doesn’t have many surprises up his sleeve here, but his orchestra play their socks off for him and the result is solidly convincing.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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