Mahler Symphony No. 5
Core repertoire though it has become, Mahler’s Fifth remains a curious kind of structure: an interlocked pair of opening movements comprising a solemn funeral march and frenzied response; a vast, bucolic central scherzo of manic ländlers and Alpine horn calls; a dulcet Adagietto for harp and strings, and a rumbustious contrapuntal work-out of a Finale with crowning chorale. True, there are thematic links between the first two movements, and between the Adagietto and Finale; true, the chorale is pre-echoed way back and that there is a kind implicit tragedy-to-renewal trajectory. But it takes a conductor with the ‘long view’ of a Bernard Haitink or a Claudio Abbado to integrate convincingly so wildly disparate a sequence of movements into a seemingly inevitable whole.
As in their previous recordings of Mahler, Manfred Honeck continues to seek fresh insights through a scrupulous re-examination of Mahler’s detailed markings and the superb Pittsburgh brass continue to exalt in the wide-open spaciousness of their Heinz Hall home-base. But this time the results prove more equivocal. Honeck never quite allows the stormy second movement off the leash, while his handling of Mahler’s many slight variations of tempo in the scherzo occasionally sounds fussy. And although his Adagietto is by no means the slowest on record, his tendency to hover over bar lines robs it somewhat of direction and shape. Meanwhile, the brass, in this symphony that spotlights them so frequently, tend to get more out of balance, more searingly assertive as it unfolds. Despite many striking details in passing, this edited live reading gets only a qualified recommendation.