I have heard varying opinions on the conducting skills of Osmo Vänskä. He is the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003 and, prior to that, a conductor of the wonderful Lahti Symphony Orchestra. I very favorably reviewed his Kullervo disc from last year.
The Mahler 6th and, I suppose, with pretty much any Mahler there are many critiques of the music and the performances. So many complexities with tempo, handling the massive orchestra to bring out one nuance or another, order of movements, etc. One thing is for certain, no Mahler aficionado will be satisfied with only one recording of each of his works. There appear to be no definitive recordings agreed upon by all. By contrast most people seem satisfied with perhaps Herbert von Karajan’s interpretation of the Beethoven Symphonies as being at least a good starting point.
One must recall that Mahler’s music was not well appreciated for a number of years. Though he gave performances of all his major works interest in them faded rather quickly after his death in 1911. Performances did occur but critics generally regarded Mahler’s music as dismissable efforts calling it “conductor’s music”. It wasn’t until Leonard Bernstein began earnestly performing these works that the current cult of Mahler actually took root.
I preface my review with these comments to say that I enjoyed this disc immensely with its gorgeous sonics (as always with BIS). Vänskä produces a lucid performance which differs from many in tempo choices and such but seems, to this reviewer’s ears, to do justice to this large and masterful work. In the end the experience is one of a valid performance (he places the slow movement as second) which provides another view of this complex work. And part of the cult of Mahler, it seems, is the need to own multiple performances.
This may not be the only Mahler Sixth you will want to own but it is definitely worth hearing, preferably on a good sound system.