Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 453 416-2
After Boulez’s unenigmatic Cleveland Mahler Seven (reviewed last June), it’s a relief to find him back on solid ground with what he calls the VPO’s ‘real tradition of orchestral sound’ in Vienna. A majestically firm opening trumpet solo heralds the perfectly centred playing we expect, compounded by miracles of balance throughout. The deliberate slight drag on the funeral march which follows – perfect – shows that Boulez is prepared to give greater leeway for expression than usual, and that holds true for the wraiths of reminiscence that surface through the second movement’s glittering maelstrom. Something of the propulsive element in scherzo and finale is lost, though, in quest of clear articulation; Bernstein with the same orchestra (also DG) shows it’s possible to have both. And the almost glacial Adagietto, surprisingly close to the world of Stravinsky’s Apollo, will be controversial.


It’s a testimony, though, to the inward glow of a world-class string sound, and it’s cruel to compare it with the lacklustre piano playing of Ostrowsky’s Belgian orchestra in the equally hallowed opening bars of the Fourth’s slow movement. This is an honourable reading, nothing more, springing to life once past a rather placid first-movement exposition and capped by an intelligently phrased child’s view of heaven from soprano Lena Lootens. David Nice