Mahler & Strauss: Masterworks

Hartmut Haenchen mit Mahlers 6., Erich Leinsdorf, Kurt Sanderling, Michael Tilson Thomas

ica 5133, 2009

Enthaltene Werke

Mahler, Gustav: Sinfonie Nr. 6 a-Moll


Eine Live-Aufnahme, die musikalisch bis zur Perfektion vollendet scheint. Der Dresdner Dirigent gilt auch anderswo viel, vielleicht noch mehr als zuhaus. Dass er mit einem international bis vor kurzem weitgehend unbekannten Orchester ein solches Ausnahmeresultat erzielt, mag beispielhaft für die Disziplin und Gründlichkeit seines Arbeitens stehen. Mahler (den Haenchen im Beiheft fantasievoll zu Wort kommen lässt) hätte seine Freude gehabt.
www.musik-in-dresden.de, 10. December 2011
ICA Classics has quickly established itself as a leading independent label, with an impressive stream of concert recordings having appeared on CD and DVD. The quality and quantity of the releases should not be at all surprising, since the forces behind this label and the artists’ agency that houses it are formerly of IMG where they mined the archives for projects such as the BBC Legends label and EMI’s Classic Archive DVD series.

The new label has two strings to its bow. First there are recordings drawn from the archives, including the Charles Munch Beethoven DVD I reviewed earlier this year. Secondly, there are relatively recent recordings made by ICA artists, such as the Antoni Wit Szymanowski DVD also favourably reviewed on this site. This DVD performance of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony by the La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra under Hartmut Haenchen comes within the latter category.

Haenchen supplies his own booklet for this release, consisting in the main of a fictitious letter written by Gustav Mahler to an unnamed friend, explaining the symphony movement by movement. Whether or not this conceit appeals to you, the information Haenchen conveys in this letter and the footnotes to it, pointing up references to Schumann and the influence of Richard Strauss, is fascinating. There is also a brief note in which Haenchen justifies his election to play the scherzo second and the andante third, with reference to Mahler’s hand written corrections to the movement timings in the proof of the first edition of the conductor’s score.

Haenchen's approach to the first movement is rhythmically crisp, naturally paced, and flowingly lyrical. This is not a performance that is driven like Solti’s or any of Bernstein’s, nor is there any hint of the horror of a Barbirolli or Chailly trudge. The darkness of the opening motif is frequently scattered. While it this is not a performance to terrify any listener, Haenchen nevertheless delivers an absorbing narrative built around care for sound. The strings are beautifully blended and he allows plenty of space for instrumental solos to bloom. The principal horn and solo violin episode around the 14 minute mark, for example, is beguiling. Haenchen is also meticulous with dynamics, witness for example the way he brings the orchestra’s sound to a whisper as the exposition repeat approaches. There are little faults though. The orchestral build up around the 17 minute mark lacks power, and there is untidiness in the brass and winds thereafter. Around 18 minutes, the fate motif is hard to make out as those instruments that fall to make the minor chord are overwhelmed by their fellows, minimising the dissonance.

I am glad Haenchen plays the scherzo second and the adagio third. Musicologists far more learned than I am have spilled much ink and invective over the correct order of the inner movements of this symphony. For my part, and perhaps because I first heard the symphony in this way, I find that the symphony makes more sense musically and emotionally this way, as the scherzo’s opening seems to me intended to be a grotesque parody of the opening of the first movement and to mock at its optimistic close. Haenchen does not really play it with such irony. He takes Alma Mahler’s words about children’s games at face value, such that the darkness of this movement in this performance is creeping and subtle rather than sarcastic and immediate. While the interpretation is certainly consistent with that of the first movement and Haenchen’s own booklet note, I wanted more bite and nastiness here.

The andante, however, sings. Haenchen and his orchestra deliver a flowing legato performance of this movement, bittersweet in its beauty. Haenchen and co. are, at 15:56, over a minute faster in this movement than the likes of Karajan, Tennstedt and Tilson Thomas, but there is nothing rushed here. The climax finds a batonless Haenchen thoroughly absorbed in the music. The little collegiate smiles he scattered to his players during the opening movements have disappeared. Placed third and played with such sad rapture, the andante truly is the emotional heart of this performance.

Haenchen takes up his baton again for the monstrous finale, where the intensity of the third movement meets the contrast and clarity of the opening movement. The playing of the orchestra is impressive, with the tuba solos suitably menacing, the soaring trumpet lines at once hopeful and melancholic, and the trombones, especially at the very end, haunting. Haenchen builds intensity slowly throughout the 33 minutes of this movement, clearly keen not to peak too early. The end, when it comes, is cathartic rather than devastating and the culmination of a fine performance. It does not displace my favourites on disc (Tennstedt (LPO and EMI Live), Solti, Boulez, Barbirolli, Bernstein (Sony)) but it is well worth hearing, especially if you incline to Abbado’s and Jansons’ views of this symphony.

Haenchen has recorded this symphony before with the Netherlands Philharmonic, a recording which turned up in a Brilliant Box some years ago. Reviewing that performance (which I have not heard) Tony Duggan suggested that Haenchen seemed not to have made up his mind about how this symphony should go, and that he underplayed the darker drama of the score. I think Tony is right in speculating that Haenchen may be “a Wunderhorn man at heart”, but on the evidence of this new DVD performance he is now capable of shaping a dramatic and satisfying performance of this symphony even though he sees lyrical melancholy where others see sheer terror.

The DVD’s sound quality is most impressive, being very detailed and clear, but also warm, the way a concert hall should sound. The visual element adds to the pleasure of this performance. The hall itself is lovely and the camerawork unfussy, offering plenty of opportunities to watch members of the orchestra as well as the conductor, whose clear gesture is a pleasure to watch in itself.
Tim Perry
www.musicweb-international.com, 01. December 2011
An amazing accomplishment

This is an amazing accomplishment. I found myself spellbound from the first notes through the entire symphony with its 82+ minutes up to the horrifying, ghastly conclusion, when all life seems to end. The La Monnaie (The old Brussels Mint) Symphony Orchestra musicians play on the same level as I would expect the Vienna Philharmonic or the Lucerne Festival Orchestra: simply fabulous. Hartmut Haenchen - judging from this performance - ranks with the very few stellar Mahler conductors today. I have had recent opportunity to praise his Mozart (see my review of the all-Mozart concert with the C.Ph.E. Bach Chamber Orchestra), but I am impressed even more with his reading of what is one of Mahler's most demanding symphonies. The reading is phenomenally concentrated, tight, dramatic and idiomatic. There is not a slack note, every minute passage and the many emotional and dynamic shifts are there to incredible effect. As opposed to Abbado, Haenchen positions the Scherzo before the Andante Moderato: this makes good sense to me. All this is captured in splendid uncompressed sound and vivid video. When one considers that the entire concert was recorded live in one session (no edits are audible), the result is even more amazing. If this is indeed part of a Mahler cycle, I can hardly await the rest. Is someone at ICA Classics reading this?
Gerhard P. Knapp
www.amazon.com, 21. November 2011
5 out of 5 stars
More Than Wonderful

As wonderful as the Abbado/Lucerne Mahler 6th performance is, I enjoy this production of the Mahler 6th with Haenchen even more. Whereas the Abbado/Lucerne production is slightly closer on camera work, I think the Haenchen/La Monnaie production exhibits more richness and depth in the sound tract. The La Monnaie percussion section is unsurpassed in this performance (the 6th symphony is arguably Mahler's most percussive). Of course the avid Mahler fan will want to own both the Abbado/Lucerne production and the Haenchen/La Monnaie production.
John T. Blake
www.amazon.com, 01. August 2011
Listen Up!: “Mahler Mania” Is Alive, and Very Well

... For an unvarnished approach to one of the symphonic pillars, ICA Classics has released a 2009 performance of the Symphony No. 6, with Hartmut Haenchen and the La Monniaie Symphony Orchestra. Unfamiliar names? They might not be for long.
Greg Hettmansberger
www.dane101.com, 21. July 2011
Hartmut Haenchen recorded this symphony with his Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra back in the 1990s, a recording available now only in a box of the symphonies from Brilliant. I have found him to be a sympathetic interpreter of Mahler, though he hasn’t produced recordings that present a distinctive interpretive voice. Of the three symphonies thus far documented on recordings, the Fourth is the best (reviewed in Fanfare 33:1). The La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra is the orchestra of the Brussels royal opera, named for the building in which its concerts are held.
Haenchen’s performance is characterized by moderate tempos and a straightforward approach to Mahler’s music. He uses Mahler’s original plan for the middle movements but eliminates the third hammer stroke (said effect is quite good: an enormous wooden hammer thwacked against a wooden crate). Unfortunately, there isn’t much else to distinguish it from most other decent but not particularly notable performances. Its video competition includes performances by Bernstein in Vienna (DG) and Abbado at the Lucerne Festival (EuroArts). While Haenchen’s sonics can match the dated sound of the Bernstein, the latter has both the benefit of greater insight into Mahler’s music and the Vienna Philharmonic. Abbado’s performance is superior in many ways, not least among them his use of countless shades of dynamic contrast to underscore and highlight, as well as his command of rubato. Haenchen’s video would make a good introduction for the piece, if the listener then graduated to either of the other two for deeper understanding of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony.
The sound, in its stereo version (it’s available in DTS surround as well), is on par with a decent CD, but no better. The soundstage is narrowly focused, and instrumental detail is often obscured; essentially effects like the cowbells, xylophone, glockenspiel, and celesta are practically inaudible. The production can’t stand up to the Abbado/Lucerne with its brighter, fuller, and more detailed sound production.
The booklet included with this DVD contains a “letter” by Gustav Mahler, explaining the genesis and psychological meaning of the symphony; it’s a letter that Mahler never wrote, being instead a creative fiction concocted by the conductor. Haenchen’s other contribution, which I think is more relevant, explains his rationale for performing the middle movements as he does.
Christopher Abbot
Fanfare Magazin, 01. July 2011
http://resmusica.com, 21.6.2011

Cette Symphonie n°6, qui marquait l’ouverture de l’intégrale des symphonies de Mahler confiée aux orchestres belges (la Symphonie n°8, apothéose de ce cycle s’est curieusement volatilisée !) au Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, nous avait séduite en concert. On craignait un peu de la retrouver en DVD car l’épreuve de la captation fait très souvent apparaître des défauts et des carences pardonnables au concert, mais criantes au disque ou sur DVD. Mais force est de constater que ce DVD assure crânement !

La lecture du chef allemand est toujours très intelligente avec ce qu’il faut de puissance, de sens des contrastes et de force architecturale. Qui plus est, Haenchen favorise un Mahler assez terrien, psychologique et bien buriné sans que cela en devienne brutal ou martial.

Les orchestres belges adorent les chefs à l’ancienne avec qui ils sentent à l’aise. Très expérimenté, Hartmut Haenchen galvanise des musiciens que l’on entend trop rarement dans une telle forme depuis qu’il n’y a plus de directeur musical fixe aux commandes de l’orchestre bruxellois. Qui plus est, les couleurs assez latines de la phalange belge apportent une clarté à cette Tragique, qui dans le contexte discographique et vidéographique, est la bienvenue.

La captation, fidèle à la musique et intéressante, est un autre point de satisfaction. Ce n’est pas révolutionnaire, mais, bien plus pertinent que les 9/10 des films sur les orchestres.
Pierre-Jean Tribot
http://resmusica.com, 21. June 2011
Diapason, April 2011, Seite 117
On n’est pas surpris de voir Hartmut Haenchen triompher avec son art sévère et son style mordant de l’épuisante plongée aux enfers qu’est la Symphonie no 6: il s’y est déjà brillamment illustré au disque et, dès qu’il le peut, inscrit l’œuvre à ses concerts, au point d’y faire jeu égal avec Boulez, Herbig, Saraste ou Haitink.
Le Scherzo retrouvant sa juste place (celle d’un second mouvement), l’Andante, pour lequel il renonce à sa baguette, devient alors le centre apaisé de la partition et acquiert une fluidité, une clarté, une nuance sognandosimplement magiques. Lecture fulgurante, où le chef na lâche jamais la bride. Le Scherzo, piquant, est un modèle de style, l’Allegro et le finale de véritables poèmes symphoniques portés par une narration qui fait oublier leur science un rien trop sollicitée habituellement.
Tutti creusés, quatuor suractif, petite harmonie très caractérisée, percussion subtile... Les musiciens de La Monnaie suivent leur chef avec ardeur. Le geste est économe mais élégant, l’œil comptant autant que le bras: filmé pour la première fois au concert, Haenchen est le pur produit d’une école de direction allemande occultée par des décennies de rideau de fer. Puisqu’il s’est lancé avec sa vaillante phalange dans un cycle Mahler, on espère la suite!
Jean-Charles Hoffelé
Diapason, 01. April 2011
Hartmut Haenchen's Mahler VI with the Orchestra de la Monnaie is purposeful and rhythmically taut.
Nigel Simeone
International Record Review, 01. April 2011
Great CD, great performance!

It was great! I recommended this CD to all my tutors and students at TutorsTeach.com where I work as a tutor.
Amir M. (Bronx, NY)
www.amazon.com, 03. March 2011
pizzicato, März 2011, Seite 34

High Energy

Was einem sofort auffällt, ist die Intensität, mit das Orchester, ein Opernorchester, das nicht im symphonischen Repertoire zuhause ist, diese Symphonie spielt. Hartmut Haenchen, seinerseits ein versierter Operndirigent, seit 2002 nun schon ohne eigenes Orchester, aber ein sehr aktiver Gastdirigent, gilt als exzellenter Mahler-Interpret. Als Dirigent der alten Schule, ausgebildet in der DDR, wo er auch als Interpret reifen konnte, kennt er die Symphonie so gut, dass er völlig über der Materia steht und sie mit dem Orchester auch bestens vorbereitet hat. So können er und die Musiker sich souverän auf Mahler konzentrieren und die Musik mit voller Expressivität spielen, ganz im Dienst von Mahlers genialer Orchestrierungskunst.
Haenchen macht keine Experimente, er stellt sich interpretatorisch weder auf einer noch auf einer anderen Seite ins Extreme, aber sein Mittelweg ist keinesfalls mittelmäßig, ganz im Gegenteil. Gleich in den ersten Sätzen bricht die Musik mit geballter Kraft über uns herein, als Aufschrei eines gequälten und leidenden Mahler, kontrast- und akzentreich, transparent und farbig, durchdrungen von packender Spannung. Ein satter Streicherklang, brillantes Blech, warme Holzbläser: das Orchester der Monnaie spielt engagiert und gibt dem charismatischen Dirigenten alles, was er braucht, um das Publikum in Hochspannung zu versetzen. Hoch anzurechnen ist ihm, dass er die Musik so differenziert sieht und aus der Energie weder pure Klangopulenz noch bombastische Klangwelt macht. Die Ausgewogenheit zwischen der rein orchestralen Kraft und der Emotionalität wird durch eine absolut richtige Balance beider Komponenten erzielt..
Haenchen stellt - etwas ungewöhnlich - das Andante an die dritte Stelle und erzielt so ohne jeden Sentimentalismus, aber auch ohne jede Ironie, etwas Ruhe und Lyrismus vor dem stürmisch-tragischen Finale mit seinen brutalen Hammerschlägen. Mahler hat hier keinen Sinn mehr für's Zynische, der Schmerz ist reell, die Angst sitzt tief.
pizzicato, 01. March 2011