Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Symphony No. 5
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: CBSO/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 62055-2
Febrile Finn Sakari Oramo has so much to offer in so many corners of the orchestral repertoire, but this stake in the Mahlerian battlefield was surely an unwise choice on Warner’s part. Interesting but rarely idiomatic, Oramo has some odd priorities: the opening trumpet-call doesn’t exactly prophesy nail-biting tension, and the typically fast, light handling of the first anguished storm-sequence is underpinned by an almost comical oom-pah bass. Extreme tempos give us a very slow valse triste in the middle of the scherzo which necessitates a sudden shift of gears, and the return of the main Adagietto theme grinds to a halt as we’re asked to admire extreme pianissimos in a movement which rarely feels organic. The vibrato so consciously applied here to the string sound is seldom in evidence elsewhere, making the more momentous heartsurges curiously flat and clinical.

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Recorded sound, too, is unintegrated, giving us monster trombones, looming cellos and seldom the bigger picture. But to be fair, the CBSO plays extremely well for its principal conductor, and there’s dazzling articulation of both the fugato passages and the chorale climax in a finale which is unmistakeably ‘live’. No doubt this was an invigorating, if lopsided experience in the concert hall; but competition on CD could hardly be fiercer, with Bernstein still chief Olympian, and the Bamberg/Nott newcomer reviewed in the August issue had more to say about Mahler’s human extremes. David Nice