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Mahler: Symphony No. 5 (Czech Phil/Bychkov)

Czech Philharmonic/Semyon Bychkov (Pentatone)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 5
Czech Philharmonic/Semyon Bychkov
Pentatone PTC 5187 021   71:44 mins


The Fifth’s epic-seismic shift from darkness to light would have been the obvious choice to launch Semyon Bychkov’s Mahler cycle with his Czech Phiharmonic, though I’m not sorry they started with its more chamber-musical predecessor. Here, Bychkov is careful to keep the strings’ lyric funeral-marches objective, and it’s fascinating how the Adagietto sounds otherworldly until the cellos bring in a richly portamentoed human warmth.

The pace, as before, generally keeps things on the move – crucial in what I think of as Mahler’s trickiest movement, the ‘stormy, vehement’ sequel to the opening ritual, paced to perfection – though there are a couple of unmarked slackenings in the outer movements. Only here does Bychkov seem to me to fall briefly victim to seeing ‘nicht eilen’ (don’t hasten) and ‘unmerklich etwas einhaltend’ (imperceptibly somewhat holding back) either side of the last big build and slamming on the brakes. I’d also have liked a bit more wildness in the central Scherzo, though the end is uproarious, and from the opening trumpet solo through the lopsided horn obbligato at the dancing heart of the work to the reassertion of the chorale at the end, the brass both individually and collectively play their parts in underlining that this is still very much one of the world’s great orchestras. In all there’s clarity, beauty of tone and a luminous Rudolfinum recording capturing both high and low frequencies with exceptional vividness.


David Nice