MAHLER Symphony No 6, Tragic (Zander)
Benjamin Zander’s Philharmonia Mahler Sixth recording was riddled with tempo and texture miscalculations, skewed balances, expressive dead spots, plus generally weak lower brass and strings. In nearly every respect, the Boston Youth Philharmonic’s live performance offers interpretative improvement. The Boston players may not match their professional counterparts for tonal robustness and heft, yet they’ve obviously rehearsed like crazy. As before, Zander’s tempo for the opening march veers more towards ma non troppo than energico but his less rigidly clipped articulation of the march rhythms render the music less choppy and square. Likewise, Zander shakes off his former static rut in the central pastoral music and now dives into the Più mosso subito onslaught (at 19'53") with far more ferocity and menace.
If the Scherzo proved the Philharmonia version’s strongest asset, the similarly energised Boston reading is better balanced; you hear the xylophone, for example, and the tubas and basses are more assured. The Andante now clocks in two minutes less than before but it’s less a question of speed than of Zander’s newfound expressive economy; he’s mostly (if not completely) quashed his habit of inserting ritards at cadences and phrase endings. The woodwinds, in turn, make more of their solo opportunities and bring superior animation and transparency to concertante sections, such as the gorgeous convergence of flutes, clarinets and solo cor anglais about 1'41" into the movement.
While Zander doesn’t offer a finale to match the emotional volatility and gut-wrenching dynamism that secure reference status for the Bernstein/Vienna, Solti/Chicago, Chailly/Concertgebouw and live Tennstedt/LPO recordings, he now takes to heart Mahler’s directive to move things along from bars 28‑40 (around 1'33"), and the climaxes emerge as inevitable rather than tacked on as an afterthought. Furthermore, the delicately diverse scoring at fig 145 (19'34") gains newfound cogency, with the celesta and harp clearly supporting the flute and oboe solos, not to mention the more shapely Grazioso section up ahead. Just don’t expect a powerful build-up to the first two hammer blows. Still, this is Zander’s most successful Mahler recording since the Ninth Symphony with the Philharmonia (Telarc, 4/99).