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Happy Anniversary

05/21/2011 -  and May 22* (Zürich), 24 (Leipzig), 2011
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 6
Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, David Zinman (conductor)

D. Zinman (© Prisca Ketterer)

At the forthcoming International Mahler Festival in Leipzig commemorating the centenary of Mahler’s death, all his symphonies will be played by leading orchestras including the home orchestra, the Gewandhaus, the Concertgebouw, the London Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Dresdner Staatskapelle, the Bavarian Radio and the Vienna Philharmonic. To this illustrious line-up add the Tonhalle Orchestra, Zurich, and based on their showing in this concert, and with the LSO under Gergiev and Mahler 1 still ringing in this critic’s ears from last night’s performance in Lucerne, I can say that the Tonhalle can more than hold its own faced with this illustrious competition.

Zinman is a most seasoned Mahlerian, the orchestra under his command recorded the symphony only a few years ago and it sounds fine. Zinman chose fairly fast tempi for the opening of the first movement, which was otherwise a model of restraint. One would expect the Swiss to be second to none on cowbells but even here the very first occurrence was nigh inaudible. Zinman drew out sufficient savagery as the movement progressed with plenty of volume from cellos, double basses and percussion. In the quieter passages the honeyed blend of woodwind and horns impressed.

Zinman relished the languid beauty of the Andante, the strings were silken and particular praise must go to the principal oboe and horn. The strings were magnificent in the chorale ending.

In the third movement, “Wuchtig” (massive), I heard details I had never heard or appreciated in this symphony which speaks for Zinman’s meticulous attention to detail. I especially liked the growling brass sonorities.

The lugubrious tones of the Principal Tuba, Simon Styles, were properly prominent in the final movement as were, of course, the two hammer blows of Fate, both orally and visually. The percussion thwacked their sticks against the sides of their drums with particular venom, this was Mahler rightly complaining about the death of his eldest daughter Putzi, his brusque removal from the Vienna State Opera and the onset of his heart disease which would kill him only five years later. The Final peroration was thrilling, with a beautifully paced ending (lovely harp glissandi) and a final crash to jolt the unwary listeners visibly from their seats.

Festival-goers in Leipzig will be impressed.

John Rhodes



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