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Blu-ray Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #5

Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig/Riccardo Chailly
Accentus Music Blu-ray ACC10284
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This Blu-ray disc is the latest in a projected complete Blu-ray/DVD cycle of Mahler symphonies by the Gewandhaus conducted by their current musical director Riccardo Chailly. This will be Chailly's second Mahler cycle. Decca released the first with the Concertgebouw Amsterdam on CD in 2005.

As Chailly stresses in the very worthwhile interview included as a bonus feature, both the Concertgebouw and the Gewandhaus have strong historical links with Mahler through William Mengelberg and Bruno Walter respectively. For this performance Chailly steeped himself in Mengelberg's annotated score.

Chailly sets himself against the trend for decelerated tempi in Mahler conducting, which he sees as self-indulgence that obscures the formal structure. His approach is classical in inspiration. He underplays Mahler's ironical moments and resists the temptation to sentimental wallowing in the Adagietto. The performance gives an overwhelming impression of energy and movement. Interestingly, and perhaps an illustration of how much Mahler conducting has changed (since this performance still sounds brisk), he remains much slower than Mengelberg's famous 1926 recording of the Adagietto, taking 8'39" to Mengelberg's 7'04".

In the score Mahler divides the five movements of the 5th Symphony into three parts – the first two and last two movements each form a block, separated by the middle part which is composed simply of the scherzo. Chailly takes his organization very much to heart (and structures his interview around it). On his interpretation the scherzo clearly comes across as the symphony's center of gravity. There is no gap between the first and second movements. The transition is very effective and highlights the continuity in Part I – as he puts it in the interview, the second movement is an attack on the first movement's funeral march.

There is an equally striking transition from the fourth movement to the finale, reflecting how well integrated the Adagietto is into the overall structure of the symphony. The finale has great power, momentum, and humor. It is Mahler at his sunniest – with Chailly identifying the last two bars as homage to Offenbach.

This is a very fine performance with excellent Blu-ray sound and unobtrusive videography. I recommend it very highly and look forward to the rest of the cycle.

Copyright © 2014, José Luis Bermúdez