Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
The engineers provide Nott and his orchestra with very impressive sound: vivid, with carefully delineated but natural instrumental sound and enough bottom-end to properly punctuate Mahler’s orchestration (Alma famously complained that he had over-written the percussion). For those of us without the benefit of surround sound, SACD seems most beneficial in providing truer concert-hall ambience—the “air” around the instruments—which enhances one’s overall impression of the performance. In preparation for this review, I listened to both stereo CDs and SACDs and found that, while some of my old stand-bys still sound
impressive, the SACDs involve me more, and pull me into their sound world more completely. All of which, of course, is very much beside the point if the performance itself is not convincing.
After a suitably commanding fanfare, Nott’s first movement presents a funeral march whose pace is measured but doesn’t drag—elegiac without being overly doleful. The sudden transition to the first Trio is accomplished without undue haste, so that Mahler’s directions to be “passionate” and “wild” aren’t rendered quite as extremely as some have made them—Karajan comes to mind. Still, sacrificing some haste to maintain control isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The second Trio is on the cool side, but the “collapse” is convincingly dramatic. Overall, Nott admirably balances precision and passion.
The second movement is convincingly vehement while maintaining coherence. This movement is often where I lose patience with merely competent performances: there are so many details to get right—wheedling, whining woodwinds, noble brass chorales (especially the one in D-major), signature major-to-minor motifs, sighing strings. Nott’s performance displays a measure of individuality without becoming merely eccentric or showy, and his orchestra is a match for every challenge.
When the Scherzo arrives, the principal horn sounds very much like it is playing from the front of the orchestra—it was Rattle’s recording that capitalized on this device, and Nott’s performance immediately engages the listener by his attention to it. That sense of intimacy within the larger orchestra is carried into the delightful second Trio—the orchestra once again is impressive, each principal in turn displaying his or her virtuosity. This movement might be said to be Mahler’s own “Jupiter,” and Nott’s performance has swagger and lilt in balanced proportions.
I was a bit concerned when I noted the timing of the Adagietto—10:59—but Nott’s initial tempo is fluid and doesn’t weight the movement with too much gravitas; that startling sea-change when the music emerges almost soundlessly from the bumptiousness of the Scherzo is effectively captured. This is dreamy music, and there is enough intensity in this performance to make one (almost) forget about tempo and timings.
The Rondo-Finale commences without a pause, but is a bit less intrusive than others have made it—Nott lets the music find its own momentum, which it soon does, burbling away in a genial fashion. This movement is another minefield for the conductor, who needs to keep winding up the spring and letting it go again, without merely repeating himself—on disc particularly, this can be a tedious exercise for the listener unless both momentum and pace are in balance. Nott acquits himself admirably, finding little places to pause and admire the scenery, then hurrying us along again.
It’s always a delight to find wonderful music in unexpected places. This is one of those performances that rise above the mundane, and the sound is a worthy complement (this is a co-production with the Bavarian Radio, which should receive credit). Nott and the Bamberg orchestra have achieved a notable success, and whether it is the first of a series or a one-off, this recording is well worth consideration by the aficionado as well as the merely curious.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C sharp minor by Gustav Mahler
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria
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