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Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Mahler
Symphony No. 5
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905285

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Harmonia Mundi is determined to make capital from the fact that this is the same Cologne institution which gave the premiere of Mahler’s Fifth under the composer 113 years ago. It’s only fair to note that the Gürzenich Orchestra has already produced one of the great Mahler cycles of late under its previous principal conductor Markus Stenz, including a Fifth that sounded a good deal more radical than this one. Still, François-Xavier Roth’s is handsome work, resulting in trenchant strings with a superb bass line, perfectly focused in the storms of the first two movements and the fugues of the finale. There’s a good sense of forward but unforced propulsion which makes the Funeral March’s successor – often a sticky point in this symphony – a blazing success.

Unfortunately when the work needs to leave the ground, in what Mahler described as the Scherzo’s ‘world without gravity’, it lacks wings – and unlike the trumpet in the first movement, the horns, both collective and solo, lack distinction. The Adagietto seems to unfurl at a good pace – albeit without the acoustic warmth it ideally needs – until the recap, when Roth underlines one of two very hushed pianissimos with a slowing to the point where the heart almost ceases to beat – an eccentric moment in an otherwise straightforward reading. There’s a lack of tonal glamour, too, which means this latest newcomer doesn’t catch the imagination like the launch of Osmo Vänskä’s Mahler cycle on BIS.

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David Nice