Sunday, January 12, 2014

Jonathan Nott and Bamberger Symphoniker: Mahler 6

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 6
Jonathon Nott
Bavarian State Philharmonic (Bamberger Symphoniker)
Tudor 7196

Jonathan Nott’s Mahler cycle with the Bamberger Symphoniker (A.K.A. the Bavarian State Philharmonic) is now complete. The cycle has been well received by critics and audiences – with considerable justice, on the strength of this recording which, like the others, is put out in a SACD hybrid format. Nott is a very fine Mahler conductor, not to my ear quite the equal of greats such as Walter, Klemperer, Bernstein, and Abbado, but definitely towards the front of the next cohort.

One controversy in performing Mahler 6 is the relative order of the Andante and the Scherzo. Mahler himself wavered. His original ordering, as reflected in the 1963 edition, placed the slow movement second (which is the ordering that we find in, for example, Beethoven’s 9 and Bruckner’s 8 symphonies). At the premiere in Essen on 27 May 1906, with Mahler himself at the podium, the order was reversed. This is followed in the latest (2010) critical edition. Nott reverts to Mahler’s original thought and plays the Scherzo before the Andante. Obviously there are no right answers here, but Nott makes a good case for his version of the architecture. His interpretation brings out both the contrasts and the continuity between the disintegrating nachtmusik of the Adagio and the huge sprawling Finale, whioch is Mahler’s longest movement, after the first movement of the third symphony.

Nott’s great strength as a Mahler conductor is his ability to maintain momentum and focus while clearly articulating the large-scale structure. He has a keen eye for detail, but never loses sight of the overall architecture. This comes across particularly clearly in the outer movements. Where lesser conductors simply drift past the landmarks in Mahler’s symphonic river, Nott is definitely steering the ship. At the same time Nott is sensitive to Mahler’s mood-painting, capturing well the sinister nature of the Scherzo, even in its more bucolic moments. He also delivers a ravishing performance of the elegiac and melancholy Adagio.

The finest performances of Mahler’s 6th have an intensity, drive, and tragic dimension that Nott and the Bamberger Symphoniker do not quite reach. But they get closer than almost all others and this is a very good performance indeed. Highly recommended.