Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: A Mahler
LABELS: Channel Classics CCS SA 34213
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Symphony No. 5
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 34213

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It would be wise in this instance not to apply a maxim dear to me – that you can judge a performance of Mahler’s Fifth from its opening trumpet solo. For the very first triplet upbeat comes out sounding like a blurry two notes. Fortunately nothing else in Iván Fischer’s latest Mahler is so indistinct. It’s not exactly exciting in the storms that sweep the first two movements or the stampede concluding the Scherzo. But the nodal points of the three movements – the ‘crying’ blast shortly before the end of the funeral march, the chorale bringing hope in the midst of the ensuing lamenting whirl, and the horn calls which temporarily still country dances and Viennese waltzes in the central ‘world without gravity’, as the composer put it, are magnificent. The woodwind play with plenty of character and there’s a surprisingly phrased trombone solo early on. A distinctive sense of growth, though, only really descends from the Adagietto onwards. Fischer knows that his strings are lean and incisive rather than sumptuous-sensuous in Berlin or Vienna fashion, so he drives a strong line with direct emotion and no sentimentality. The complex counterpoint of the finale benefits from lightness and spring; it remains companionable to the last where most performances outstay their welcome. Sound is pleasingly natural and I admire the contemporary resonance of the conductor’s note about his Jewish family adapting to the times in Budapest. Hungary today is an unhappy place, but the ensemble remains in excellent shape.

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David Nice