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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

London 458860

Symphony #5 in C Sharp minor

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Ricardo Chailly
London 458860-2 DDD 71:05
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This is a stunning Mahler Fifth. Previously, I've favored Bernstein, Sinopoli and Levine in this work, but this performance – high in drama, seething with passion and tension, all captured in dynamite sonics – supplants them unquestionably. This will surely win some awards at year's end.

Never have I heard the string portamenti so vividly as here, and never has it sounded so fitting – Mahler, to whom this characteristic was so important in his performances of his symphonies, would have loved this recording, I think. And the orchestra really digs into this work's dark side: just try the opening of the second movement, where the brilliance and grimness of Mahler's music comes through with crushingly intense power. Chailly wrings out the heated passion and ever-present menace in this movement with a penetrating insight that never seems to veer off course in the restless, roller-coaster musical trajectory. The Adagietto is taken slowly, Chailly eschewing a recent, and I think, heretical tendency to play it at a faster pace. I won't delve into that argument here, but suffice it to say that this movement comes across beautifully and songfully, though even here Chailly finds menace lurking around the corner.

But it's not just these two inner movements that come off well: the three odd-numbered ones fare just as successfully, with not a moment's inattention to detail by Chailly and his Dutch players. The finale, for example, is so full of robust joy and sunlit triumph that you don't want it to end. Back to the beginning of track 5 you go, or simply back to the symphony's opening.

The Amsterdam Concertgebouw is splendid throughout and the sound is excellent (the best I've ever heard in this work). The copious notes by Donald Mitchell are scholarly and informative. Need I say more about this recording?

Copyright © 1998, Robert Cummings

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