Monday, June 26, 2017

Gustav Mahler; Richard Strauss - Symphony No. 6; Metamorphosen (John Barbirolli)


Composer: Gustav Mahler; Richard Strauss

  1. Strauss - Metamorphosen (Study for 23 solo strings)
  2. Mahler - Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic": I. Allegro energico, ma non troppo
  1. Mahler - Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic": II. Andante
  2. Mahler - Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic": III. Scherzo (Wuchtig)
  3. Mahler - Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic": IV. Finale (Allegro moderato)

New Philharmonia Orchestra
John Barbirolli, conductor
Date: 1967
Label: EMI



"... There’s still no doubt in my mind that this recording is utterly unique: a one-off, mould-breaking account that should be on every Mahlerite’s shelf whatever other version they have. I’ve owned every version since it was released and cannot conceive of being without it. And yet I still think that it ultimately fails as a guide to this great work but as it’s such a noble failure by a conductor of the highest integrity that it insists itself into any list. If you are going to orbit the moon then maybe the dark side of it has to be encountered at least once. The very expansive tempo for the first movement, with opening basses playing marcato rather than staccato, is a fatal flaw because it weighs down the music with too much tragedy at the point in the developing drama where it should retain liberal amounts of energy and fire and yet what a sound it makes. It also ignores completely Mahler’s express marking and yet what a sound it makes. The pastoral music with cowbells also sounds fatally earthbound. It’s all impressive on its own terms, though. Especially the way Barbirolli hangs on to it all like grim death, bringing out instrumental details other recordings only hint at. But still the effect is rather like that of an Edwardian actor manager "hamming" Shakespeare. As if Barbirolli is shouting at us all the time. There really needs to be some light let in here or the unremitting horror that Barbirolli seems determined to visit on us just becomes gratuitous. In the second movement there is another expansive tempo that goes with what has just gone and this, as in parts of the first movement, allows us to hear some more details usually missed: inner string harmonies, for example. Again, though, the effect too heavy-footed. The Andante works better, with Barbirolli’s humanity and feeling showing through. The last movement at last takes fire but there is still not enough of the hero before the fall with which to compare the hero at or after the fall. As, to a lesser extent, with Rattle this is a long way from the symphonic argument I believe is demanded and which you will hear under Sanderling and others, and which makes Mahler’s tragic point much better. If Bernstein and Tennstedt turn a Tragedy into a Melodrama, Barbirolli takes a Greek Tragedy and makes it Jacobean. But hear other versions first, read up on the work, and then hear Barbirolli for yourselves. This EMI version is much to be preferred to the "live" Berlin version on Testament which is in mono sound, suffers from a Berlin Philharmonic whose interest in Mahler is always sketchy and is cursed with metallic hammer blows in the last movement. What was Sir John thinking of here? ..."

-- Tony Duggan, MusicWeb International

More reviews:

Different issue (coupling with Strauss' Ein Heldenleben)


Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.


Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, lieder, tone poems and other orchestral works. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Along with Gustav Mahler, Strauss represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.

John Barbirolli (2 December 1899 – 29 July 1970) was a British conductor and cellist. He is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. His interpretations of other late romantic composers, such as Mahler and Sibelius, as well as of earlier classical composers, including Schubert, are also still admired.


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