Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp Minor

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Hannsler
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp Minor
PERFORMER: Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.165

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A light, fast volley of trumpet fanfares announces a Mahler Fifth with a difference, swiftly underlined as Stuttgart strings take up the ensuing funeral march without a hint of vibrato. This is ‘authentic’ Mahler as far as Sir Roger Norrington can apply it to an orchestra of contemporary instruments and it nearly works in an Adagietto where the songlines unfold without hiding behind sweet sonority (there is, in fact, one point two-thirds of the way through the movement where Mahler actually asks for vibrato, and what a difference it makes).

The balances throughout are refreshingly clear in this most counterpoint-conscious of Mahler symphonies. The recording emphasises that it’s not just the horn obbligato of the scherzo which deserves to be well to the fore; collective horns and resonant trombones shine in the limelight without rendering the textures brass-heavy.

Unfortunately the clarity also reveals this live performance’s loose ensembles in the hellfire of the first two movements: when Mahler asks for the music to press forward, not all the players follow Sir Roger into the fray, and in any case ‘wild’ is not a Mahlerian injunction in his vocabulary. The finale, despite occasional losses of momentum in its grazioso passages, bounces in its folksiest moments and the crowning chorale, keenly anticipated earlier in the symphony, brings a genuine adrenalin charge.

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Sonically, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra can’t compete with world-class ensembles like Bernstein’s Vienna Philharmonic, but its frequently beguiling freshness is well worth sampling. David Nice