Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Dorian
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Dallas SO/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: DOR-90193 DDD
Neither of these orchestras has the ideal body of string sound for Mahler, but Litton proves just how much difference a firm conducting hand can make. Segerstam aims for grand effect, and he pulls the music about with more licence than even Mahler allows, coming across as ponderous. The hellfire of the First Symphony’s finale suggests that his Resurrection (Symphony No. 2) might be worth a hearing; yet he does little to shape the lines or make them sing. The Wayfarer song that ought to come trotting out of the morning mists of the first movement remains shrouded and reticent – the recessed sound certainly doesn’t help – and for the nostalgic counter-subject of the finale he keeps to Mahler’s refined dynamics without encouraging the strings to energise.

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Litton is a role model in this respect: the Dallas strings can be brittle, and come off poorly in their first, stormy struggle with the brass, but their new principal conductor has clearly worked long and hard on articulation. In the Adagietto he draws from them a promising, vibrato-laden (but not vibrato-drenched) inwardness which combines with a free and easy sense of movement to deeply moving effect. Like Abbado’s recent Berlin recording of the Fifth Symphony, this is recorded live – at the opening concerts of the orchestra’s current season – and Dorian offers a far more natural sound picture than DG did for Abbado. Dallas’s brand-new Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center certainly helps with transparency, but don’t expect any overwhelming impact. David Nice