Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 5
Heiko Mathias Förster, cond; New PO of Westphalia
SOLO MUSICA SM 160 (71:28)
This is the third CD featuring Heiko Mathias Förster and his Westphalian orchestra that I’ve reviewed; the first two comprise a hybrid Mahler First (with “Blumine,”
31:6) and a Beethoven program featuring the Seventh Symphony (35:3). It may be that I’m warming to the artistry of these musicians, or that this work is a particular
Förster specialty, but of the three, I’ve found this new CD to be the most satisfactory by far.
In the first movement, Förster hits all of his marks. The “suddenly faster” section is urgent without sounding harried, and the later more refined interruptions of the funeral march have a melancholy charm; the “collapse” is impactful without being exaggeratedly catastrophic; and the march itself is well paced, stern, and straightforward. The recorded sound is robust, weighty, and resonant stereo with a modicum of instrumental detail. Förster apparently favors a homogeneous sound for this symphony; his is an interpretation of heft and impact over inner detailing. The massed violins aren’t as clearly delineated as they would be divided left and right, but the trade-off in impact may be worth the loss of clarity.
The first five minutes of the second movement may be the most challenging in the Mahler canon, and Förster captures the tumultuous skirmish of the swiftly shifting themes and tempos; the cello cantilena is eloquent but not particularly mournful, more of a sobering influence in the transition to the reappearance of the second theme. The solo horn in the Scherzo is prominent without being isolated from the orchestra. The suddenly darker G-Minor element in the midst of the extended Trio section is very convincing here: heavy and admonitory—Mahler at his most contradictory. Elsewhere, the dance elements provide the contrast necessary to establish that this movement is distinct from the opening two-movement salvo.
The Adagietto’s tempos and manner aren’t quite finessed enough to make of it the wistful love letter of Benjamin Zander (Telarc) or Markus Stenz (Oehms), but it’s not heavy in the Bernstein sense, either. Within the context of this weighty interpretation and recorded sound, it is more in the nature of an extended intermezzo. The almost unalloyed joyfulness of the finale is evident in this version. There is vigor in the winds and strings that lifts once and for all the gloom and doubt of the first part, and provides a more assertive geniality than that of the Scherzo.
Förster’s is the first stereo Fifth that I’ve reviewed in quite some time, the most recent recordings being almost exclusively SACDs. It is more consistently coherent than the more individualistic account by Gustavo Dudamel on DG, and the sound is better than the job done for Simon Rattle on EMI. Though this is a full-price recording listing for $18.99 on ArkivMusic, I can recommend it as a solid account of Mahler’s always fascinating Fifth.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C sharp minor by Gustav Mahler
Heiko Mathias Förster
Westfalen New Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria
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