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Blu-ray Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #5

Gewandhaus Orchestra/Ricardo Chailly
Recorded Live at the Gewandhaus Leipzig, Germany February 21 & 22, 2013
Accentus Music Blu-ray ACC10284 74 mins LPCM Stereo DTS-HD Master Audio
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Ricardo Chailly's cycle of the Mahler symphonies on video continues with this very fine account of the Fifth. It's interesting to compare a conductor with his own previous recording of the same work. Chailly recorded the Fifth with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for Decca on a 1998 CD, which I reviewed here (London 458860-2). It was also part of a complete cycle and I must declare it has been perhaps my favorite performance of the Fifth. Of course, there is much competition from the likes of Bernstein/New York Philharmonic (Sony), Sinopoli/New Philharmonia (DG), and many others.

Regarding comparisons of the new Chailly with the older Chailly, the one thing you notice is that the new effort is faster than the 1998 recording in every one of the five movements. (Note: don't go by the timing given in the album booklet for the finale, as nearly four minutes of applause are added.) At 66:39 this Fifth clocks in nearly five minutes faster than the Amsterdam effort. However, in a work that lasts around seventy minutes that's not necessarily a major difference. Indeed, most listeners would not notice a significant difference between the two performances except in the fourth movement: the Adagietto is nearly two minutes faster but greatly benefits from the livelier tempo as the music gains in passion and tension.

Though the other movements are only a minute or less faster than their counterparts, each is at least as compelling. The first movement begins ominously – as it should – and powerfully, with the trumpeter crisply playing the four-note motif that alludes to the motto in the Beethoven Fifth Symphony. The whole movement, especially the main funeral march theme, is filled with darkness and tension. The second movement, which Mahler asks to be played "Mit großter Vehemenz", is definitely vehement in its tempestuous and surging character, and Chailly actually manages to wring out even more angst and storminess as the movement proceeds. He also deftly captures all the menace and color in the Scherzo and the succeeding movements come across convincingly, with the finale ending in great and crushing triumph.

The Gewandhaus Orchestra performs with accuracy and total commitment, and the sound reproduction is quite vivid and powerful: percussion instruments are especially potent and balances across the sonic spectrum are in proper proportions. The camera work and picture quality are first rate. I reviewed another Mahler Fifth on video here in 2011, the Gergiev (Unitel Classica/CMajor DVD 702608) on Unitel Classica/C Major. It was a fine effort, but in the video realm – and perhaps in any venue – this new effort by Chailly must take top honors in the Mahler Fifth. I should mention there is a bonus feature in which Chailly discusses interpreting the Mahler 5th. The language is Italian but subtitles are provided. An excellent release – highest recommendations!

Copyright © 2014, Robert Cummings