MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in a minor – NY Philharmonic/ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Archipel

MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in a minor – NY Philharmonic/ Dimitri Mitropoulos – Archipel ARPCD 0440, 72:57 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Archipel issues the same performance of the Mahler Sixth (10 April 1955) previously made available on Music&Arts CD-1214, which I reviewed before. The inscription bears all the hallmarks of Mitropoulos’ eminently physical response to Mahler’s over-wrought emotionalism, touched by a palpable yearning for transcendence. When the music calls for overt tenderness and sentiment, Mitropoulos accords the moment a decided eroticism, tinged with imminent tragedy. I here reproduce the gist of my original printed reaction, with a few added remarks, given my “refreshed” familiarity with this epic reading.

Mitropoulos provides us with a staggering, superheated Mahler Sixth, a work he first introduced to the United States in 1947, to a mixed critical reception. The 1955 realization has the typical earmarks of the Mitropoulos approach: committed, explosive, excruciatingly poignant, and unsentimental. Mitropoulos opts to place the Andante moderato second, a choice obviously not etched in stone, since his later WDR appearance put the slow movement after the Scherzo, which wins nods from self-styled Mahler scholars. The energized, focused quality of the Philharmonic string, wind, and brass choirs warrants praise, especially as French horn James Chambers occasionally spited Mitropoulos in performance. Compare Mitropoulos’ Andante to virtually any other conductor’s for vitality, searing intimacy, and cosmic exaltation – where even the cowbells assume a haunted grandeur – and you appreciate his feral absorption of the Viennese Mahler style while confronting Mahler’s Gothic and grotesque elements without false modesty.

The Scherzo indeed unleashes a series of controlled, militant paroxysms, hair-raising in their ardent ferocity. The ingenuous laendler that follows, while still reeling from a bass or tympanic tremor, manages life-affirming gestures with an ironic smile. Mahler had marked this movement “old-fashioned,” as if to rescue some sense of a world quickly fading into oblivion. Out of a sea of strings and harps, the apocalyptic Finale: Allegro moderato emerges; and whether it is wreathed Triton or Gabriel at the trumpet depends on your (Wordsworthian) creed. We might be witnesses to both the creation and destruction of the world: something of William Blake’s cosmology invests the music and its driven interpreter. The relaxed moments suggest a Korngold movie score, the frenzied episodes the more suggestively titled When Worlds Collide. After the 29-minute finale reaches its “three hammer-strokes of fate,” we feel spent, as though Mahler’s furies had pounded us into submission.

I can only reaffirm my utter devotion to the Mitropoulos conceptions of Mahler – which prior to their having been popularized for the New York audiences by Leonard Bernstein – already soared with massive and consistent persuasion that never lacks for innate nobility of spirit.

—Gary Lemco

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