Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Laurel Record
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Junge Deutsche Philharmonie/Rudolf Barshai
CATALOGUE NO: LR-905 (distr. +1 323 876 6040; www.laurelrecord.com)
The orchestra’s the thing here. These young German players have a sheen and an assurance missing from many of the second-league American orchestras who have been trying the Mahler ticket recently. The strings are impressively focused and weighty when they need to be, with glorious tone from the violins on the G string towards the end of the second movement. As for the solos, it’s not just the all-important first trumpet and obbligato horn who invest their roles with freshness and urgency; the woodwind are not far behind (just try the opening of the finale for vocalising spirit). I like, too, the idea of giving the top line in the divided cellos just after the scherzo’s primeval horn calls to a single player; the colours in this twilight zone are especially haunting.

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Imagine what a fruitful stamping ground this might have been for Bernstein. Barshai’s interpretation, though, treads a fluent but ultimately unmemorable middle ground. He avoids eccentricities or exaggerated emphasis and makes the right kind of song-with-wings out of the Adagietto, yet he never takes these players as far as they could go in the storm and stress of the first two movements, and the scherzo lollops rather than leaps. The sound of the live Cologne recording is over-reverberant, and bass-heaviness contributes an over-intrusive tuba at the foot of an otherwise splendid chorale in the second and final movements. Homely presentation, too, even if the sight of the young German oboists and clarinettists with bells raised aloft is a nice touch. David Nice