Symphonies Nos 4 & 5; plus bonus: Solti’s Vision: The World Orchestra for Peace

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5; plus bonus: Solti’s Vision: The World Orchestra for Peace
PERFORMER: Richard Paul Fink, Gerald Finley, Thomas Glenn, Sasha Cooke, Eric Owens, Earle Patriarco, Roger Honeywell, Meredith Arwady; Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Chorus & Orchestra/Alan Gilbert; dir. Penny Woolcock (New York, 2008)
CATALOGUE NO: 02608 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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As the pious 21 minute ‘bonus’ documentary reminds us, assembling the so-called World Orchestra for Peace from the lead players of some 40 orchestras around the globe was a vision of Sir Georg Solti near the end of his life. Recorded at last year’s Proms, this 15th-anniversary concert under Solti’s chosen successor, Valery Gergiev, comprises two Mahler symphonies back to back.
 
Too much of a good thing? There is certainly a sense of holding in reserve in the Fourth Symphony: the first movement positively plods, though Camilla Tilling’s brightly focused soprano is a plus in the finale. The Fifth Symphony displays far more drive and sharply characterised detail and draws some thrilling playing from the orchestra’s principal trumpet and horn.
 
At least, as far as one can tell, for the presentation is maddeningly disruptive. The camera is rarely still for more than a few seconds, darting with banal predictability from solo to solo; alternating close-ups with long shots in a way that bears little relation to the balances of the sound recording and continually gets in the way of grasping thelonger continuities of the music. 
 
But more bemusing are the front shots of Gergiev. How the players manage to discern a beat in those wayward, fluttering gestures and to keep together so well is a mystery. Maybe they are so experienced and have already played these works so often that, given a conductor of such charismatic intensity, it scarcely matters what he actually does. Bayan Northcott