City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Simon Rattle

Mahler: Symphony No. 6

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Simon Rattle is a mystery. True, Rattle did build the City of Birmingham Orchestra into something more than a fourth-rate provincial orchestra; under his care and guidance it grew into a second-rate provincial orchestra. But is that a reason to record them? True, Rattle is a Mahler conductor of rare vision and unique insights, but his vision is skewed toward the eccentric and his insights are often simply weird and sometimes little more than interpretive twitches and grimaces.

Simon Rattle's Mahler Sixth is a mystery. Rattle seems to believe that the opening movement's march should be played slowly and sluggishly, that its textures should be thick and turgid, that its colors should be garish and vulgar, that its orchestral details should be lost, and that its inexorable momentum should stop every now and then to admire the scenery. Rattle seems to believe that the Andante moderato should be played very slowly and inwardly, which is appropriate, but that it should also be played slackly and laxly, which is less inappropriate. Rattle seems to believe that the Scherzo should be heavy, which was Mahler's intention, and that it should also be blunt and bland, which was probably not Mahler's intention. Rattle seems to believe that the Finale is a Triumphal March that apparently inexplicably goes wrong in its closing bars, which is just wrong. The worst is that Rattle has reversed the order of the inner movements. The critical edition of 1963 set that mistake to right decades ago: it is Scherzo-Andante and there are good harmonic and structural reasons to follow this order. But Rattle, through idiocy and perversity, does it backwards. This isn't an interpretation: it's a willful distortion and disfigurement of the score. This isn't a mystery; this is murder.

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