Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is hardly light summer fare. The conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler called it “the first nihilist work in the history of music.” Mahler’s friend Bruno Walter refused to conduct it, saying “it ends in hopelessness and the dark night of the soul.” Once titled “Tragic,” the symphony indeed preceded a period of tragedy in Mahler’s life. At 80-minutes long with frequent shifts in tempo, numerous exposed passages for winds, horns and brass and near-constant demands on the strings, the Sixth is no day at the beach for even a top orchestra.


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