Gramophone Record of the Year
When at last it was revealed what Mahler's final intentions were regarding the ordering of the inner movements of his Sixth Symphony, 90 years of theory, history, and performance practice went right out the window. For theorists, it altered the harmonic structure of Mahler's A minor Symphony. For historians, it modified the meaning of Mahler's "Tragic" Symphony. For players and conductors, it changed the musical progress of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. For listeners, it made Mahler's deepest and darkest symphony even deeper and darker. With the achingly nostalgic Andante moderato now coming before the bitingly bitter Scherzo, the triumph of the opening Allegro energico sounds even more hollow and empty and the collapse of the closing Allegro moderato sounds even more final and total.
For most of his career, Claudio Abbado had performed Mahler's Sixth in the then-standard ordering of Scherzo -- Andante and the results were completely convincing. But with this June 2004 recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, Abbado has adopted the Andante -- Scherzo ordering and the results are absolutely compelling. Abbado has always been one of the finest virtuoso conductors of the past half century, but his interpretations have grown more passionate over the years, even to the point of violence, and this Sixth may be the most violently passionate recording he has ever made. Indeed, the unrelenting intensity, unbearable concentration, and overwhelming power in Abbado's interpretation make it one of the most devastating performances of the work ever recorded. The Berlin plays with stunning virtuosity, tremendous dedication, and unconditional love. DG's sound is warm, clear, and real, but just a little bit distant.