Classical Music: Double Play

Our critics give their verdicts on the week's big release; Mahler: Symphonies Nos 6 & 7 London Philharmonic / Klaus Tennstedt Live recordings from the Royal Festival Hall (EMI 5 55294 2)

Life imitating art imitating life? It makes for good copy, of course: Klaus Tennstedt, engaged in his own life-or-death struggle with a debilitating illness, fights the good fight for Mahler. But given his uncanny temperamental affinity with this composer, and with the Sixth Symphony in particular, and given that, only having looked into the abyss, can you really know how it feels, it's probably reasonable to suggest that Klaus Tennstedt never came closer to living, really living, the symphony than he did here. Which doesn't necessarily make for a greater musical experience, just a more personal one. And, in Mahler, that's often the same thing.

Something happened at the Royal Festival Hall in November 1991. Take that visionary passage from the development of the first movement, an imagined existence far from the madding crowds, high above the hurly-burly, closer to heaven but remote - as Schoenberg once observed - from the warmth of humanity. Tennstedt conveys an extraordinary sense of its cold comfort, fragments of the aspiring "Alma" theme now drifting aimlessly, longing to be whole again. You could no more emulate Tennstedt in a passage like this than you could Leonard Bernstein. The rubatos (often breathtakingly extravagant) are inbred, any given phrase, paragraph, movement, will take as long as it takes. Like Bernstein, he'll always go the extra distance. The Scherzo's double-trio verges on a parody of the parody (what was it Cardus said: "a landler for polar bears"?), while everything about the voluminous Finale is writ large, larger, largest.

The sheer effort of will conveyed at the threshold of the final climax - an absolutely tremendous crescendo of wishful thinking - is of an intensity that few in my experience have equalled. Klaus Tennstedt fighting for his life. The London Philharmonic cease playing but rather take possession of the notes. I'm still hearing that ignominious string bass pizzicato, like a final lifeline snapping on entry to the broken coda.

The Seventh, from two years later (you see, he did overcome, albeit temporarily), is rougher and readier. But I like its elemental, unhoned quality, I like the fact that Tennstedt maximises the work's eccentricities - though even he cannot salvage the outlandish Finale: a kind of Viennese "Come Dancing" for the uncoordinated. Rattle has the best solution: don't try to make sense of it (what is it but a collage, a sequence of transitions), just make for the silver lining and that banquet of a coda.

If this is your first time, so to speak, then Rattle (EMI) is still your best bet for the Seventh. Similarly Bernstein (DG) in the Sixth. But Tennstedt had more to say about this music than he had time to say it in.

EDWARD SECKERSON

An intriguing coupling. It would make a fascinating concert - for those with the necessary stamina. The Sixth Symphony remains the teeming, explosive but entirely self-sufficient musical argument it always was; but No 7 feels more than ever like the morning after the Walpurgisnacht. It doesn't merely echo the Sixth, it emerges from its shadow. Even though two years separate these concert performances, there's an irresistible sense of emotional sequence - until the Finale of No 7 at least. The "triumphal" return of the first movement theme at the end - bells and cowbells pealing dutifully - still sounds like an act of desperation to me. Perhaps it would have been better if Mahler hadn't tried to pretend that the symphony is an autonomous organic whole.

But I can't think of a better way to experience these two works together. You may disagree in principle with aspects of Tennstedt's readings - the long, languishing rubato that leads into No 6's impassioned "Alma" theme is effective once, but in the repeat it's more like deja entendu. But in the end the conductor's passionate conviction carries almost everything. And highly charged as it is, it isn't unrelenting: it's quite possible to go straight from the Adagio to the emotional roller-coaster Finale without feeling that a 10-minute break and a stiff brandy might have been a good idea.

As for No 7, the playing and expressive sweep in the first movement are impressive too, as is the gradual shift of emphasis from striving to fantastic and uneasy dreaming. By "live" standards the recordings are excellent, though the odd detail does get buried - a shame the mandolin sounds so reticent in No 7. Still, a strongly competitive pairing.

STEPHEN JOHNSON

Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tv Review: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series began tonight with a feature-length special
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee