Mahler: Symphony No. 6 / Young, Hamburg Philharmonic

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The Essen Philharmonic premiered Mahler’s Sixth Symphony on May 27, 1906. The composer conducted the performance himself. He only led it two subsequent times: in...

The Essen Philharmonic premiered Mahler’s Sixth Symphony on May 27, 1906. The composer conducted the performance himself. He only led it two subsequent times: in 1906 in Munich and in 1907 in Vienna. The common nickname “Tragic Symphony” was only officially used once (at the first performance in Vienna) and then never again; it did not make its way into published editions of the score.

Here, conductor Simone Young leads the Hamburg Philharmonic in a recording that The Classical Sentinel calls "one of the most beautifully expressive accounts [the critic had] ever heard [and] yet another fine 'live' recording from Oehms Classics."


The performance gripped—and held—my attention from the outset. I like Simone Young’s basic tempo in I: it’s expertly judged and neither too fast nor too slow. That of itself makes an immediately favourable impression. The orchestra makes a good sound, which is well reported by the engineers. The exposition repeat is taken, as most conductors do nowadays, and the performance is characterised by good energy and rhythmic definition...The nostalgic cowbells passage that follows is very atmospheric, though perhaps taken just a fraction too slowly. However, the relaxed pacing gives us the chance to admire some excellent solo woodwind work. The principal horn also excels hereabouts and in many other solo passages during the work. Indeed, the whole horn section, so crucial in this symphony, is on tip-top form throughout. After this dreamy passage, when the tempo picks up again (15:47) the music fairly bounds along and from here until the end the performance is thrusting and dramatic.

The Andante moderato is beautifully sung. The passages of lyrical nostalgia come over very well but later on so, too, do the moments of ardour. The playing is excellent; the string tone is consistently pleasing and there is much fine woodwind work. I find Simone Young’s way with this movement very persuasive: there’s lots of gentle calm but when the temperature of the music rises (for example from 11:56) she brings out the passion—and the insecurity?—that Mahler put into those pages.

She invests the scherzo with just the right amount of weight; sufficient to bring out the dark side of the music but not so much as to compromise the sparkiness of the sardonic side of things. As in the first movement, there’s excellent rhythmic definition and good use is made of accents to characterise the music. One advantage of hearing the scherzo third is that as it reaches its end the music dissolves into fragments and eventually stutters to a halt in the depths. Thus it bridges to the sepulchral stirrings at the start of the finale.

In this last, massive movement Simone Young may not quite plumb the emotional depths that, say, Klaus Tennstedt explores but, then, his reading is wholly exceptional and may not be to all tastes. As it is, I think Ms. Young hands the enormous span of this movement very well indeed. Her tempi are well judged and she inspires the orchestra to play with huge commitment—and precision. The brass, in particular, seem tireless in the face of Mahler’s huge demands on them. The first two hammer blows (12:01 and 17:45) are the occasion of massive climaxes, as they should be, and the way in which the ground is prepared for each of them is very impressive. In the four or five minutes that lead up to the third hammer blow (27:54) the music seethes and boils yet the conductor clearly retains tight control. Yes, I did refer to a third hammer blow. Mahler excised that from the score after conducting the first performance, slightly re-orchestrating at that point...The coda (from 28:37) is bleak and gaunt, bringing to an end a very convincing reading of the finale and a very fine performance of the symphony as a whole.

The recording reproduced very well on my equipment and seemed to me to convey the orchestra’s sound with clarity, impact and atmosphere...

Simone Young’s Mahler Sixth enters a crowded field...It would be well-nigh impossible to nominate a “best” and I’m not even going to try, but this Simone Young recording can stand comparison with most. It’s a distinguished issue.

-- MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 25, 2012

  • UPC: 4260034864139

  • Catalog Number: OC413

  • Label: Oehms Classics

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: Gustav Mahler

  • Conductor: Simone Young

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Philharmoniker Hamburg, Young


  1. Symphony No. 6

    Composer: Gustav Mahler

    Ensemble: Hamburg Philharmonic

    Conductor: Simone Young