Mahler: Symphony No. 5 (Bavarian State Orchestra/Zubin Mehta)

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Farao
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Bavarian State Orchestra/Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: S 108052 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Some of Zubin Mehta’s more recent financial-artistic ventures, such as endorsing Andrea Bocelli as a ‘Real Italian Tenor’, have made it easy to forget that Vienna and Munich regard him as a great man. This recording gives you some idea why. Certainly it’s not a Mahler Five living out the extremes of the composer’s expressive spectrum.

The opening fanfare, though splendidly played as is everything in his taxing role by Bavarian first trumpeter Andreas Öttl, isn’t quite tight enough in its rhythms, the following string song not quite inward enough; nor is any of the Adagietto, rather stolid tempo-wise and missing the inward emotion of which these strings are surely capable.

The scherzo could be earthier, its horn obbligato more exuberant, the contrasting waltz strains more buoyant, though things look up in the feral stakes once the finale gets underway. Even so, you’d probably not guess until the applause that this is a ‘live’ performance.

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So why investigate? Because Mehta is second to none in laying bare Mahler’s ambition to be the new Bach, delighting in ingenious counterpoint. It’s especially refreshing to hear the second movement shorn of so much angst. All this is supremely well served by one of the most wide-frequencied of Mahler recordings, in both formats – on a demonstration level with Chailly on Decca and Tilson Thomas’s San Francisco cycle. David Nice