Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks - BRSO

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 6

Gustav Mahler: Symphonie Nr. 5 © BR-KLASSIK Label

Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, called the “Tragic”, in an impressive interpretation with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by its chief conductor Sir Simon Rattle. A live recording from September 2023.

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To mark the 75th anniversary of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) in 2024, the BR-KLASSIK label is now making previously unreleased recordings of concerts worth listening to available for the first time on CD and as a stream.

Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony was among Simon Rattle’s first concert programmes as the new chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The performances in Munich’s Isarphilharmonie from September 27 to 30, 2023 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Mahler interpretation, for Rattle, like his predecessors Jansons, Maazel and Kubelík, is an ardent admirer of the composer. BR-KLASSIK has now released the live recording of the concerts.

Gustav Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is perhaps the darkest work he ever wrote – its nickname is “The Tragic”. And there is something almost destructive about the final movement. “But strangely enough,” says Simon Rattle, “it is also a very classical symphony. Yes, it is extreme, but for long stretches it is less wild than other works of his – although of course it does convey a harrowing message. But it’s like a lot of great works: there are always different ways of reading them. I’ve been conducting the Sixth for forty years now, and over time I’ve come to realise that it also contains hope.”

Mahler composed his Sixth Symphony during the summers of 1903 and 1904 at his “composer’s cottage” in Maiernigg, near Klagenfurt. At the Vienna performance in 1907 (the third under his baton), he called it the “Tragic Symphony” – a nickname that soon became the stuff of legend. In particular, the darkness and devastating hopelessness of the finale – written at a time when he was at the high point of his life, both professionally and personally – are puzzling. Even his wife Alma could not quite explain the contradiction. As always, it was in and through music that Mahler came to terms with his experiences, exploring themes such as farewell, the meaning of existence, death, redemption, the afterlife, and love.

More than other Mahler works, the Sixth Symphony is committed to “classical” symphonic form: it is in four movements and has no vocal parts. Despite all the liberties it takes, the opening movement follows sonata form. The Andante draws on the rondo form, as do the Scherzo and the Finale. The march, which sets the tone from the very first note of the first movement, plays a major role. Very unusually, even the Scherzo has march-like features and seems like a parodistic paraphrase of the opening, with a change of perspective. Simon Rattle concludes: “I think Mahler presents here the whole package of a colossal life – and that includes love and optimism.”

Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Sir Simon Rattle conductor

Total Time: 82’02 min.

3D audio release in DOLBY ATMOS

  • Recording of recent performances from September 27 to 30, 2023 from Munich’s Isarphilharmonie

  • The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra performs under its new chief conductor Simon Rattle