Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: CPI
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: New England Conservatory Youth PO/Benjamin Zander
CATALOGUE NO: 329407
With the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, a preliminary caution might be unnecessary, but the first thing to be said here is that the players are all between the ages of 13 and 18. It would be nicer to follow up with the usual truisms about youthful enthusiasm transcending technical shortcomings, but this is a CD for the world market, and that simply isn’t the case.

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Certainly Zander’s overall conception is well co-ordinated and he knows where to go for the adrenalin rushes without losing control (notable in the later stages of the scherzo and the two great cloudbursts of the finale). Yet the dry Mexican ambience in which the live performance was recorded is too hard on the rough-edged playing simply to let you sit back and enjoy the performance on its own terms. The string tone is especially disconcerting: clearly Zander has worked on authentic Mahlerian vibrato, but without a core to the collective playing it merely sounds nervy and uningratiating, like a thin-as-a-rake youngster slapping on the cosmetics. Individual contributions from the opening trumpeter and the solo horn in the scherzo impress, but on disc, lapses of ensemble which one might indulge in the more generous spirit of a live performance make for queasy listening. David Nice