Benjamin Zander’s three previous Telarc recordings of Mahler symphonies (the Ninth, the Fifth, and the Fourth, successively) with the Philharmonia Orchestra have inspired music critics around the world to use descriptions such as “searing,” “definitive,” and “uniquely illuminating.” Now he brings his signature combination of passion and impeccable musicianship to Mahler’s haunting Symphony No. 6 in A minor, the “Tragic.” London’s The Guardian called the concert performance, which took place in April 2001 at Royal Festival Hall in London, “as alert to the vivid detail of Mahler’s orchestration as it was to the grand sweep of the symphony’s structure.” The review said the opening movement “glittered with strange colours and burned with diabolical drama,” and finally proclaimed that “[Zander] made the extremes of the finale’s expressive world...lead inevitably to the devastating emptiness of the symphony’s final chord.” The three-CD set includes a bonus discussion disc intended for the lay listener, in which Zander takes the listener through the score movement by movement revealing the meaning of the piece.
During the summers of 1903 and 1904, Mahler seemed preoccupied with death, despite the fact that he had recently been very happily married (in 1902) and that his wife Alma had borne him two children (the first in 1902 and the second in June, 1904). It was during these two summers that he composed his haunting Sixth Symphony and the two final songs from Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Deaths of Children).
For the Finale of his Sixth Symphony, Mahler conceived a hero assailed by three “hammer blows of fate, the last of which fells him as a tree is felled.” Mahler appeared to identify with this “hero” so strongly that he reportedly was too frightened to conduct well at the symphony’s premiere, and later became so superstitious that he refused to conduct the final “hammer blow” and eventually suppressed it from the score.
The revision of the Finale is not the only one that Mahler made after the score’s original publication. The first published version shows the Scherzo as the second movement and the Andante as the third. But during Mahler’s rehearsal with the orchestra for the first performance, he reversed these two movements, and in later publications, the score was published with the revised order.
Since there is so much controversy over the movement order and the inclusion of the final hammer blow, this recording makes available both versions on a single disc for the first time, so that the listener can choose between Mahler’s original conception or his superstitious revisions.
As a conductor and passionate educator, Benjamin Zander firmly believes that, given some guidance, everybody can understand and come to love great music. He has been the subject of feature segments on the CBS News show 60 Minutes, and the National Public Radio talk show “Fresh Air.” Zander travels extensively, giving master classes and conducting guest performances, most recently in Tel Aviv, Israel, where he was invited to conduct the Israel Philharmonic in May following a last-minute cancellation by Herbert Blomstedt. Zander led the orchestra in five critically acclaimed concerts, with two programs that featured performances of the Beethoven Third and the Mahler Fifth symphonies.
This summer, Zander will conduct the newly formed Youth Orchestra of the Americas in its inaugural season, in performances in Boston (July 25), at Wolftrap (on July 30th, with Leonard Slatkin and Yo-Yo Ma), and in Brazil (August). The orchestra was jointly founded by the New England Conservatory of Music and Vision, Inc. Placido Domingo is its Artistic Advisor.
In February, Zander was honored as the 2002 recipient of the “Caring Citizen of the Humanities” Award by the International Council for Caring Communities, in a ceremony at the United Nations. The ICCC is a non-government organization of the UN.
Zander’s next recording for Telarc will be Mahler: Symphony No. 3. The recording will be made in London, following a concert performance of the work with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall on January 19, 2003
Zander's reading of the symphony is both fierce and tender- the military motifs are thumped out, but the slow movement is played with tenderness of feeling, and detail of expression. Comparison of Zander with Karajan's highly regarded performance with the Berlin Philharmonic is revealing; Karajan is faster, more brittle, brilliant and relentless, but I believe Zander is closer to the volatile spirit of Mahler... But the main reason to choose Zander is his 79 minute disc of introduction and explanation. This is Zander the communicator at his most winning and informative; he explains the music from the inside, shows how it fits classical forms and patterns and after you have listened to him you will appreciate the way the old sonata form gave dramatic strength to Mahler's music.
"Zander is arguably the most devoted Mahlerian of the day,
and the sixth symphony has passionately exercised him. I do not hope to hear a more wrenching yet heartwarmingly lyrical account on disc."
"...it glittered with strange colours and burned with diabolical drama. Zander's dynamic direction suffused every pore of the orchestra."
"...belongs on every Mahler shelf - it sheds new light on Gustav's dark star."
The Boston Phoenix
"This is "music appreciation" at its best – enthusiastic, insightful, and completely lacking in condescension. Zander is more than a great conductor; he's a great teacher as well"
"I come away from this performance drained, enlightened, in awe of this level of music-making....In a just world this recording would come to be regarded as a classic performance, in the same way that the first Leonard Bernstein recording has. It belongs in every record collection."
A uniquely wrenching yet heart-warmingly lyrical account by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Ben Zander. The textures have brilliant clarity. The deeply pondered but spontaneously felt tempi and phrasing hold one in a sometimes terrifying grip.
"This recording is quite simply the finest Mahler 6th... (It) raises the bar for the whole classical recordings industry... Top disc of the year 2002, bar none..."