WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 437 789-2 DDD
If only the engineers had given us the illusion of a decent seat in Berlin’s Philharmonie concert hall for Abbado’s latest, live Mahler Fifth, all might have been well. Yet, however much one may reel at the revelatory details furnished by the Berlin strings at close quarters, synthetic balances and deadweight close-ups spoil the picture. I feel we’re not often hearing the intense pianissimos which have always been an Abbado speciality in the Funeral March and Adagietto (sanely paced, even so); nor is there always the spacious richness of tone the audience surely experienced at tidal-wave climaxes, though the emphasis on the chorale’s two appearances remains almost terrifying.
Even so, the purpose of this remake following Abbado’s long-deleted studio recording seems vindicated by the ebb and flow of the live performance (though the suspicion of an edit in the finale suggests patching). His magisterial control brings the volatile mood-swings of the first three movements deliberately close to the edge, and the finale is a smart, bright-eyed celebration that for once never outstays its welcome. David Nice