Dimitri Mitropoulos

Mahler: Sinfonia N. 6

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Whether it was with Berlioz, Brahms, or Berg, Dimitri Mitropoulos became as one with the music he conducted, and it is pointless to expect anything except radical subjectivity from his performances. This was particularly true of Mitropoulos' Mahler performances since the Austrian composer's music is perhaps the most susceptible of any late Romantic's to personalized interpretations. The Greek conductor more than memorized the scores; he ingested them, digested them, and ultimately made them an integral part of his being. All of that is reflected in his August 31, 1959, performance of Mahler's Sixth Symphony, with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestre, released here in mediocre sound by Urania.

In the 1950s, there was no real tradition for performing the Sixth. Compared with later conductors' Sixths, Mitropoulos' tempos are powerfully individualistic, with the opening Allegro slower and weightier, and the following Scherzo faster and tougher than later became the norm. Mitropoulos' transitions are even more unusual. Surging forward into the opening Allegro's second theme or dragging backward into the central Andante's climax, Mitropoulos makes every transition expressive and significant. But the quality that really distinguishes Mitropoulos' Sixth from all others is his uncanny ability to let the music blaze up at climaxes, to let it burn with a brightness and intensity that comes very close to being unbearable in the Finale's three shattering climaxes. In the end, this Sixth is overwhelming in its emotional impact, giving the listener the strong sense that Mitropoulos' subjectivity may be truer to the music than other conductors' objectivity.

Sadly, Mitropoulos is badly let down by the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestre. It takes five full bars to catch the conductor's beat in the opening Allegro, and things improve only a little from there on. Partway through the first theme, woodwinds conspicuously miss their entrance. When the first trumpet takes up the second theme, the player cracks more than a few notes. And so it goes for the remainder of the performance.

Urania's sound is barely acceptable. Despite the age and the source of the recording, the attentive listener can, with a bit of effort, hear most of what's going on most of the time. The Music & Arts release of the same performance, which clarifies the sound to a remarkable degree, is far superior.

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