Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Piano Quartet

Mahler: Symphony No. 6; Piano Quartet

by Christoph Eschenbach
     
 

Released just before it was announced that Christoph Eschenbach wouldn’t be staying on much longer as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, this recording of Mahler’s Sixth may inspire some to listen for signs of the reported discord between the maestro and his players. They’re not going to find any. Rather, this recording will stand as a testament to the… See more details below

Overview

Released just before it was announced that Christoph Eschenbach wouldn’t be staying on much longer as music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, this recording of Mahler’s Sixth may inspire some to listen for signs of the reported discord between the maestro and his players. They’re not going to find any. Rather, this recording will stand as a testament to the brilliance that Eschenbach has sometimes achieved in Philadelphia. It’s disappointing to see their partnership end, but if this is one of their final releases together, as seems likely, at least it should preserve some good, lasting memories. There’s an appealingly streamlined aspect to this live performance, not in terms of speed -- it’s actually a bit slower overall than many recent recordings -- but rather of style and tone. The opening march theme is etched with such taut rhythmic precision that it sets off the surging second theme in even greater contrast than usual. In the Scherzo, it’s the astutely judged tempo transitions that make this performance special, along with the careful interplay between each of the orchestra’s highly polished instrumental groups. With the slow movement’s beautifully sustained melodic line providing the calm before a turbulent finale, Eschenbach and the Philadelphians offer a remarkably satisfying traversal of this epic work. Since it spills over onto a second disc, a bonus follows in the form of Mahler’s Piano Quartet, his only surviving piece of chamber music. Eschenbach takes the keyboard here, joined by three of the orchestra’s string players for an affecting performance of this elegiac work from Mahler’s student days. With an intimacy that allows the listener a cooling-off period after the mammoth symphony, it reveals another side of Mahler and of Eschenbach as well, making this a desirable memento of the conductor’s Philadelphia years.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Uncle Dave Lewis
Recording has long been recognized as part of the lifeblood of symphony orchestras; in terms of publicity, satisfying the needs of patrons, and spreading the gospel about orchestras of high caliber, nothing beats a good recording. When the bottom fell out at BMG Classics in 1999, the illustrious Philadelphia Orchestra found itself without a recording contract for the first time since 1917, and surprised everyone in the industry by briefly recording with budget stalwart Naxos before moving onto an arrangement with Finnish label Ondine. This option has worked out well, as Ondine is capable of delivering better sound and more attractive kinds of packaging than the Philadelphia Orchestra could expect even at BMG. This Ondine issue featuring Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia in the SACD format is no exception to either of these attributes. Eschenbach's only previous Mahler symphony recording is one made of the "Symphony No. 1, Titan," with the Houston Symphony, and his rendering of the "Symphony No. 6 in A minor, Tragic," with the Philadelphia Orchestra, is the first the orchestra has ever made of this work. Overall, this symphony is just a tad longer than the average length of a CD, and while some conductors with speedy tastes for certain movements within are able to deliver performances that fit on a single disc, the established norm is to divide the long Finale: Allegro moderato off to a second disc, and perhaps find some filler. The filler here is an interesting choice, Mahler's early and not frequently recorded "Piano Quintet in A minor." Eschenbach is an excellent pianist and is superb in chamber music, and not surprisingly this is a strong performance -- perhaps its main competition is a recording led by Ralf Gothoni, also found on Ondine. Eschenbach uses the lighter, revised version of the "Symphony No. 6," but elects to retain Mahler's original movement plan, which places the Scherzo before the Andante moderato movement. This may be in part to showcase the Andante moderato in particular, as Eschenbach takes this movement much slower than most, clocking in at 17 and a half minutes. The remainder reflects average timings; however, the pace of the Scherzo is almost identical to that of Allegro energico, and the two movements are shaped here as though cut of the same cloth. Eschenbach's reading of the "Sixth" is steady, cool, controlled, and a little conservative -- don't expect any of the explosive and tragic histrionics one finds in long-heralded interpretations of the Mahler "Sixth" by John Barbirolli or Jascha Horenstein. If one does not have a recording of the "Sixth" already, Ondine's Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 6 would be an excellent choice, as it very clearly transmits Mahler's score with a minimum of fuss and a certain degree of elegance. Only problem is that it enters into a rather crowded field -- not only is there an SFS Media version led by Michael Tilson Thomas that comes highly touted, but there are already a half-dozen SACD versions of the Mahler "Sixth" available. Nevertheless, some hardcore Mahler fanciers can never own too many versions of the "Sixth," and while some of them, with the perversity typical to Mahler nuts, might feel that the symphony is merely serving as filler to this excellent recording of the "Piano Quintet," this will still come as good news to Ondine and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Gramophone - Jed Distler
This recording of Mahler's Sixth Symphony may well be the Sixth of first choice, sonically and interpretatively.
Time Out New York - Stephen Francis Vasta
A convincing Mahler ensemble: tonally expansive, with a translucent sheen.
Dallas Morning News - Scott Cantrell
[Grade: A] A Mahler Sixth Symphony that goes right to the front of the class.... The orchestra plays gloriously, its legendary string sheen as radiant as ever.

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Product Details

Release Date:
10/03/2006
Label:
Ondine
UPC:
0761195108451
catalogNumber:
1084
Rank:
113010

Tracks

  1. Symphony No. 6 in A minor ("Tragic")  - Gustav Mahler  - Christoph Eschenbach  - Eduardo Nestor Gomez  -  Philadelphia Orchestra  - Kevin Kleinmann
  2. Piano Quartet in A minor (incomplete)  - Gustav Mahler  - Choong-Jin Chang  - Christoph Eschenbach  - Eduardo Nestor Gomez  - David Kim  - Kevin Kleinmann  - Efe Baltacigil

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