As an “enormous celebration,” this performance has few equals. And the orchestra plays magnificently.
The Mahler Fifth from Simon Rattle’s widely publicized inaugural concert as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic has already been issued on CD (see the reviews by Christopher Abbot and Steve Holtje in 26:4)—and here it reappears in a new format. Or, rather, in a bewildering variety of new formats: The box contains not only a standard DVD containing a video of the concert with a choice of three different audio tracks (Linear PCS Stereo, dts 5.1, and Dolby Digital 5.1), but also a bonus disc of the same performance of the symphony with several different choices for DVD-Audio, some or all of which may be playableRead more through your DVD-Video player. In a sense, then, this release becomes a demonstration disc par excellence for complex high-end systems—but there are good reasons why you might want to choose the DVD version over the CD version, even if music-making rather than sound reproduction is your key concern.
First, the DVD (although not the bonus disc) also includes the concert opener, a vital performance of Thomas Adès’s 1997 Asyla. Rattle’s earlier recording of this quicksilver work drew disparate responses from three different critics in 23:4 (Robert Carl, Robert Kirzinger, and Martin Anderson), and I suspect that his new recording will generate similar disputes. To my ears, the piece—despite its tendency to rely on gesture and splashes of color rather than on traditional symphonic development—really does build to a hard-won, if uneasy, resolution; certainly, I don’t share Martin Anderson’s sense that the music runs in place for its 20-odd minutes length. Likewise (and this is especially clear when Adès’s music is held up against Mahler’s), I hear a fair amount of complex irony here—not the cheesiness that put off Robert Carl. In any case, the new performance is a magnificent one—and even those who don’t like the score may be knocked over by the commitment of the Berlin Philharmonic to what one might have expected to be uncongenial repertoire.
Second, the DVD includes a substantial interview that Nicholas Kenyon conducted with Rattle just a month before the concert. Normally, such interviews are a dubious bonus; but Rattle is both brilliant and articulate, and in addition to the expected chitchat about his relationship to his new orchestra, he offers detailed insights into the structure of the symphony and his interpretation of it. It’s the rare kind of discussion that may really make a difference in the way you think about the music.
Finally, of course, the DVD offers visual commentary on the performances. Not that I’m convinced that the visual is crucial for concert music (as opposed to opera). Still, the camera-work and the editing are clearly done by people who know and love the scores—and if nothing else, the video confirms what critic Jochen Breiholz wrote after the concert: “When Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic, the musicians actually smile while playing.” And in this instance, their visible enthusiasm for the symphony and for their new music director is infectious.
And the performance of the Mahler? Abbot and Holtje had starkly different reactions. Abbot, praising the way Rattle brings coherence to the music’s disparate elements, hailed it as Want List material. Holtje, in contrast, found the interpretation both “eccentric” and “erratic”: Although “most people consider the Fifth to be one of Mahler’s happier scores,” he claimed, Rattle finds “disturbing shadows even in the famous Adagietto.” I’d have to support Abbot here. In the interview, Rattle suggests that the work is about coming to terms with mortality—and his interpretation serves as a compelling gloss on his observation (made with disarming self-deprecation) that, in this work, Mahler tried to demonstrate that “love and counterpoint will remedy everything.” It’s not simply that the finale (to which Rattle sees the Adagietto as a love-struck upbeat) bursts forth as an irresistible rush of joy. More striking, the entire symphony moves—unsteadily but inevitably, as is Mahler’s way—toward that conclusion. It’s neither as instructive in its details as Sinopoli’s recording, nor as wrenching in its more anguished moments as Bernstein’s accounts, nor as fractured as Scherchen’s wacky studio reading. But as an “enormous celebration” (to use the phrase Rattle used when explaining why he chose this work for this concert), it has few equals. And the orchestra plays magnificently. Enthusiastically recommended.
– Peter J. Rabinowitz, Fanfare [9-10/2003] Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C sharp minorby Gustav Mahler
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria
Asylaby Thomas Adès
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: by 1997; England
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
superb exciting performanceFebruary 7, 2013By Carol L. (Houston, TX)See All My Reviews"This is a must own. It is fascinating to watch the players up close. I highly recommend this."Report Abuse