January 19, 1981 12:00 PM

Claudio Abbado and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

“Power” and “grandeur” were two of Gustav Mahler’s primary watchwords, and almost everything he wrote was endowed with these qualities. Like an epic novel, the two-disc Sixth juxtaposes a cavalcade of emotions—an individual’s triumphs, joys and frailties. Mahler wrote this symphony at his summer home in Austria in 1903 and 1904, an outwardly peaceful and happy period for him, spent with his wife, Alma, and their two young daughters. But the work emerged as strangely tragic. Alma later wrote of her first hearing of it: “Not one of his works came so directly from his inmost heart as this. We both wept that day. The music and what it foretold touched us deeply.” Indeed, three years later the Mahlers’ elder girl, Maria, died at age 5 of scarlet fever. In this performance, the lustrous Chicago Symphony never sounds taxed, and Abbado, 47, an Italian in the first rank of conductors, weaves Mahler into a coherent tapestry. He brings to mind German maestro Otto Klemperer’s comment on Mahler’s own esteemed conducting: “You felt [his interpretation] couldn’t be otherwise.”

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