Notes and Editorial Reviews
The ensemble playing by the Concertgebouw Orchestra on this recording is so fabulous that it almost makes you forget a couple of trouble spots. But first the overwhelmingly good news: Mariss Jansons has lots of interesting ideas about how the music should go, and most of them work extremely well. The flowing tempo of the opening funeral march makes perfect sense when the strings phrase so expressively and the ominous percussion (tam-tam, soft bass drum and cymbals, muted snare drum) is so effectively touched in. Jansons' tempo adjustments in the second movement also convince, while his very measured scherzo (18-plus minutes) never actually sounds slow. Through it all, the Concertgebouw winds shine, as they almost always do, the strings
really sing in the Adagietto, and the finale's whimsical counterpoint couldn't be cleaner.
That said, there are a couple of weak spots. As a general comment, the playing at times, however fine in and of itself, can be almost too smooth, particularly in the first two movements. In the funeral march the first trumpet doesn't dominate that first, furious outburst with his manic wailing as he should. The wild opening of the second movement is just a touch too controlled, and the horn obbligato in the scherzo could be more prominent. In the finale Jansons slams on the brakes too early in the concluding chorale (lots of conductors do it, and it never really works). And as usual there's some weirdness in the percussion here, in this case a tepid cymbal crash instead of a solid bass drum thud--folks who know the work will catch it immediately.
The Fifth remains Mahler's toughest symphony to play and conduct, perhaps because so much depends on near-constant virtuosity from the strings and brass. The winds, a Concertgebouw specialty, are more or less along for the ride much of the time. Jansons' pacing is hard to fault (the Adagietto, at nine minutes, sounds absolutely ideal), and of course the orchestra knows the music cold; but the performance does lack some bite even though the stunningly natural sonics really let the players shine. This is a very enjoyable performance, but as so often with Jansons, what seems to be his natural reserve falls just short of the ideal. Then again, this also was true of Haitink, and it didn't stop him from doing some great Mahler in Amsterdam. I can well imagine many listeners being very satisfied with this mostly excellent release.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C sharp minor by Gustav Mahler
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria
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