- Symphony No. 6 in A minor ("Tragic")
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This Mahler Sixth Symphony, recorded live in September 2001 immediately following the attacks on New York and Washington, is the first in a planned series from Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony of Mahler's complete symphonies. It certainly is a powerful beginning to their cycle. The coincidence of date and work (the Sixth is commonly known as the "Tragic" and contains some of the most emotionally devastating music the composer ever wrote) is surely no more than an ironic twist of fate, yet the music can't help but take on added gravity in such circumstances. Still, the playing -- while forceful, intense, and often dazzling -- is never overblown, never overstated for empty dramatic effect. Credit for this must go in large part to Thomas, who carefully shapes Mahler's sprawling work with well-judged tempos throughout. But the orchestra, too, deserves a great deal of praise for delivering such a compelling performance at a notably turbulent moment in time. Thomas's pace at the opening of the Allegro march is a touch on the fast side, lending a strong propulsive drive to the music, and even the following lyrical "Alma" theme is lit with an inner fire. The Scherzo begins with explosive timpani and digging rhythms from the strings, while the Andante flows with songlike beauty. The plus-sized Finale begins mysteriously indeed, building insistently to its crushing conclusion, with the famous hammer blows of fate delivering a solid thwack, even if they're not quite as sonically arresting as one might wish. Altogether, though, this is one of the best-played Mahler Sixes there is. And the engineering is a marvel, imparting exceptional spaciousness and clarity to the sound -- this despite the live concert setting. Recorded on the Symphony's fledgling in-house label in hybrid SACD, the disc will still operate in regular players as well as those equipped to read the super audio format. So regardless of what equipment you have, you won't miss a note -- and you'll want to hear every single one.
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