Second Rate Mahler Sixth from Netopil, Unfortunately

Review by: David Hurwitz

Mahler6Net

Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 6

Czech conductor Tomáš Netopil paces this performance very effectively. He observes the first movement exposition repeat, places the scherzo where it belongs as the second movement, and knows how to deal with Mahler’s special effects: the cowbells, hammer blows, etc. The problem is the orchestra, at least as recorded here. The Essen Philhamonic plays with commitment, but they aren’t up to Mahler’s cruel demands for equality in all sections. In particular, the trumpets and trombones sound very weak when they have important melodic lines that should emerge from the texture.

I could point to numerous examples, but consider only the motive from Liszt’s First Piano Concerto in the first movement exposition, or the descending phrase for the high trumpet right at the start, toward the end of the first theme. Mushy timpani, weak climaxes with cymbals and percussion badly off-mike, and other deficiencies all point to a less than first-class ensemble, and less than top-notch engineering (when the celesta is more prominent in the mix than the brass section then you’ve got a problem). I’d like to hear Netopil conduct Mahler with a great orchestra. Short of that, in this day and age, no one’s Mahler is worth a second glance.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bernstein (Sony or DG); Chailly (Decca)


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