Mahler’s Sixth Symphony

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Thursday 26th February 2015 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor Berg: Three Pieces for Orchestra 20′ Mahler: Symphony No 6 85′ Listen on Spotify Mahler’s Sixth Symphony portrays an artist crushed by three “hammer blows of fate” – and soon afterwards, three devastating blows reduced Mahler’s own life to ruins. Coincidence? What’s certain is that this is one of the most powerful, and personal, symphonies ever written. Andris Nelsons brings every bar urgently to life – and explores the atmospheric Three Pieces that Mahler’s friend Berg wrote in the second year of the Great War.

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “So, more than usually the Andante came as balm. At the start the music was presented gently and with innocence. The CBSO strings were silky while there were some admirable woodwind and horn solos to relish. The refinement of the playing was a delight and Nelsons shaped the music in a very caring fashion. The sweeping climax, when it came, was passionately delivered but the hallmark of this very fine performance was lyrical sweetness.

 Thus refreshed, we embarked on the thirty-minute-long finale. This extraordinary movement received an edge-of-the-seat performance. After playing Mahler for nearly an hour already, and the Berg before that, one could have forgiven the CBSO if they had shown any tiredness in this marathon finale but they did not. Not only did the orchestra retain their technical proficiency but also they maintained the intensity demanded of them by Mahler and by their conductor. This was truly a tour de force by the CBSO. Nelsons drove the main allegro pretty hard – but not excessively so. In the midst of all the tumult Mahler gives some brief respite by revisiting the nostalgia previously induced by the sound of Alpine cowbells.  However, not only was the respite brief but also Nelsons maintained the tension and, to be honest, I felt there was a sense of foreboding in these pages: what Mahler has done here is to give us a brief glimpse of happier times before sweeping away those memories and that’s what Nelsons conveyed. The two hammer-blow climaxes were terrifying in their power and after the second one Nelsons confronted us with a maelstrom as the music seethed and boiled. At the very end the low brass intoned the funeral rites before, in the words of annotator Gavin Plomley, the major-key/minor-key motto of the symphony “pitilessly.. drives the final nail into the coffin.”

As the music dissolved into black nothingness Nelsons and his players held the moment for a long time so that, mercifully, there was no risk of premature applause to mar the end of this gripping performance.”


Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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“It’s less than four months until Andris Nelsons conducts his final concerts as the City of Birmingham Symphony’s music director. Even now, each programme brings a sense of discovery, of finding out how he tackles areas of his ever-widening repertory that he has hardly explored before with the orchestra.

This time it was Berg’s Three Orchestral Pieces, composed partly as a reaction to Mahler’s death and here played as a preface to his Sixth Symphony. Nelsons didn’t make the pieces sound particularly Mahlerian, though there was no shortage of vehemence in the cataclysmic climax of the final piece, but Nelsons did tease out every tangled strand of their instrumental writing, confident that the clarity of the Symphony Hall acoustic would keep them distinct, and shaped each of the pieces so that its destination was always clearly defined.”     …