Fabio Luisi’s Cozy, Comfy Mahler Sixth

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 6

Fabio Luisi likely had good ideas for this 2011 live performance of Mahler’s Sixth symphony, but they largely fail to come through in this new CD from the Vienna Symphony Orchestra’s house label.

Luisi chooses decent tempos–slightly slow in the first movement, quick in the Scherzo, and generally standard pacing in the Andante and Finale. But the Vienna Symphony plays in a somewhat easy-going manner that is out of place in this music, particularly the trumpets, which play with such delicacy and nuance that they seem to have wandered in from Debussy’s La Mer. This is not a problem with the low brass–menacing at the second hammer blow (which like the first, sounds like somebody hitting a cardboard box), and mournful in the Finale’s coda–they certainly make their presence felt.

However, the main culprit is the low level recording, which sets the orchestra far to the rear in the acoustic and allows for little dynamic impact. It’s a strangely opaque sound that gives the impression of a not-very-well-engineered broadcast air-check. All of this results in a sonic porridge that renders Mahler’s meticulously scored inner voices barely distinguishable (especially the woodwinds). The high strings rise above this, but the horns largely can’t escape the suffocating fog.

Luisi uses the new Critical Edition of the score that places the Andante second and the Scherzo third. If you prefer Mahler’s first thoughts (Scherzo, Andante) then you’ll have to relive the good ‘ol days of getting up to change sides on your LPs.

Ultimately, there’s really nothing in this release that distinguishes or compels. And certainly nothing that competes with Bernstein, Chailly, Zinman, Gielen, or Levi–to name just a few.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bernstein (DG); Chailly (Decca); Zinman (RCA); Gielen (Hänssler); Levi (Telarc)

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