Teodor Currentzis / MusicAeterna

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 6

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In keeping with his reputation for shaking up conventions, Teodor Currentzis recorded one of the most controversial of the symphonies to launch his Mahler cycle on Sony Classical, so the Symphony No. 6 in A minor doesn't necessarily seem like an odd choice for this iconoclast. In contrast with some of his fellow conductors, Currentzis doesn't follow the revisionist practice of reversing the inner movements to comport with Mahler's belated doubts about the original order, and he doesn't restore the third Hammerschlag in the Finale, which Mahler superstitiously removed, hoping to cheat death. In other words, Currentzis is neither appealing to a presumed historicity nor second-guessing Mahler's intentions. Instead, he takes a hard look at the inner workings of the symphony as published, emphasizing many details that are often swallowed up in the general welter, and draws out so much of the music's motivic activity and underlying material that his reading amounts to a deep-dive into the score. In the interests of giving essential features clear definition, Currentzis has his hand-picked ensemble MusicAeterna employ sharp attacks and crisp articulation from the outset, and the fierce playing throughout is a constant reminder of the first movement's deadly martial tread, which continues in the Scherzo and is resumed later in the Finale. Relief from this unsettling march in its various guises comes in the Andante moderato, a nostalgic slow movement in the distant key of E flat major that provides a much-needed change of atmosphere from the grim A minor tonality of the outer movements. Currentzis takes the Sixth Symphony on its own terms, and his exceptional orchestra delivers one of the most exciting interpretations this work has had in years. Highly recommended.

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