MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor – Boston Symphony Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf – HDTT HDCD231, 73:47 (Avail. in various formats from www.highdeftapetransfers.com) ****:
Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993), already well-noted for his mastery in German opera repertory, came to the music Gustav Mahler quite legitimately, having studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and the Vienna Academy of Music. Here, performing with “the Aristocrat of Orchestras” in 1966 for RCA –in a two-track tape digital transfer–we have Leinsdorf’s conception of the A Minor Symphony (1903-1904), among Mahler’s most unified of his symphonic scores. Three of the four movements in A minor are bound to a repeated motif of a major triad’s moving to minor. The first movement, Allegro energico, ma non troppo, begins ominously with an ardent, aggressive march that permeates the movement. This evolves into a fervent second subject, whose melody, Alma Mahler writes in her biography, represented her. The development segues to quiet, mysterious chords in the divided violins and celesta, answered by the distant rattling of offstage cowbells. The composer called this section “the last greeting from earth to penetrate the remote solitude of the mountain peaks.” We do not hover long in the mountains, however, and both the march and the “Alma” theme return in the recapitulation, the movement’s ending with a triumphant statement in brass and strings of Alma’s yearning melody.
For this inscription, Leinsdorf places the Scherzo prior to the Andante Moderato, an option conductors employ ad libitum, since Mahler waxed ambivalent on their “final” placement,” although the majority of interpreters follows this order. A bitter dance of fate or Totentanz (after Liszt), the two trios’ music inspired Mahler to label it “Altavaeterisch,” old-fashioned in the manner of an elderly grandfather’s leading the round-dance of little children. The original motif and its da capo, however, anticipate Bartok’s stamping dances and the sound of braying animals. These impulses convey something of Nature’s malevolence rather than her bounty. The rustic elements try to avert the implacable forces of dissolution, but the irony reigns.
In E-flat Major, the Andante presents some high-vista relief from the onslaughts of fate, whether induced by Providence or libidinous energies. The BSO violins luxuriate in the soaring counter-melody, eventually rising in apotheosis to a brilliant E Major statement that includes distant cowbells as a bucolic–or transcendental–commentary on Mahler’s often deranged cosmopolitanism. Low Cs and low As initiate a series of riffs–with celesta and harp glissandi–that move from hazy to coldly brazen reminders of militant and often inflamed mortality. How did Zazantzakis describe Nietzsche?–as the philosopher who forced us to confront reality without any metaphysical consolations–and so this music consistently rejects pantheistic or earthly comforts so that we face grim and abysmal Fate alone. Splendid playing by the BSO, brilliantly engineered in it original sessions by Richard Mohr and Anthony Salvatore and here refurbished with aroused and dazzling sonics.
— Gary Lemco
N.B.: The jacket notes on the back cover invert the notorious middle movements’ order, along with their respective timings: Leinsdorf plays the Andante first.