Notes and Editorial Reviews
R E V I E W S:
Symphony No. 5
Václav Neumann, cond; Leipzig Gewandhaus O
BRILLIANT 93278 (65: 41)
Václav Neumann conducted a complete set of the Mahler symphonies with the Czech Philharmonic from 1976 to 1982 (a set that eluded me). This earlier performance with the Leipzig orchestra, which Neumann conducted from 1964 to 1968, was presumably
recorded during that time—there is a Mahler Ninth on Berlin Classics that dates from 1967 (Brilliant supplies no production data). The sound is quite good for a recording of that vintage (despite the wide channel separation common at the time), with decent bass and very little hiss or distortion.
This is an impressive performance, with tempos that are on the fast side; there is a commendable regard for Mahler’s multifaceted approach to symphonic development, and Neumann captures much of the chaotic nature of part I. The Scherzo is suitably sunny, and the Adagietto features a prominent harp and flowing tempos. The boisterous finale is effectively spirited (if also occasionally marred by lapses in ensemble and rhythmic insecurity) and caps a Mahler Fifth that is a bargain at Brilliant’s price.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
It's interesting to speculate, as the misguided partisans of Horenstein and Mitropoulos attempt to rewrite history by claiming far more significance for those artists as Mahlerians than they ever enjoyed in real life, on how our perception of Mahler on disc would have changed had these recordings not been tucked away behind the Iron Curtain when they were originally made in the mid-1960s. One of the reasons Bernstein looms so large as a Mahler interpreter stems from the dearth of systematic, world-class competition at the time. Vaclav Neumann's Leipzig Mahler recordings (of Symphonies Nos. 5-7 and 9) certainly would have been competitive had they enjoyed widespread distribution in the West, and they are still enjoyable now, even if they will strike some listeners as a touch lightweight and perhaps under-characterized (much like his compatriot, Rafael Kubelik in fact).
There's a lot to enjoy in this generally swift, sharply focused 1965 performance, a version almost exactly contemporaneous with Bernstein's (not the best item in his CBS cycle). The opening funeral march may lack atmosphere and gravitas, but the turbulent second movement finds the Leipzig orchestra playing with surprising ferocity. The scherzo is excellently paced (just over 16 minutes), the Adagietto, as might be expected, is graced by some really lovely, songful sounds from the strings, and the finale has plenty of energy. Certainly this remains on balance the finest of Neumann's three recordings of this symphony. The sound is definitely dated--shallow and lacking in bass--but it doesn't mitigate the virtues of the performance. At the Brilliant Classics price, Mahler collectors can add this bit of discographic history to their CD shelves with no regrets.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in C sharp minor by Gustav Mahler
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria
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