old friend of mine used to talk about how much he liked the
music of Mahler and Shostakovich because it was so big and bombastic
and he could crank up his expensive stereo system and impress
all of his friends. It has always seemed to me, however, that
big and bombastic was exactly what these two composers, especially
Mahler were not. Rather, they were master orchestrators
who painted with the entire palette of sounds available to them,
making full use of all of the wonderful light and dark shades
and rich hues that an orchestra of over one hundred players
could give to them.
it is with the fifth symphony, Mahler’s return to a purely instrumental
form after the extensive use of voices in Symphonies two, three
and four. And what a journey this is, through the gamut of emotions
from the heraldic opening fanfare followed by the rather tortured
second movement to the third movement scherzo, nearly schizophrenic
in its mood swings, the achingly gorgeous adagietto and finally
the triumphant and even joyous conclusion.
Haitink is certainly no stranger to the work of Mahler, with
at least two complete recorded cycles under his belt and the
rich legacy of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and instrument
which he played so deftly for so long. Here present is an amalgam
of two concert performances with the French National Orchestra,
not an ensemble that I readily associate with Mahler. Under
the experienced hand of Haitink, however, they turn in a most
admirable, if not end-all performance.
is certainly nothing to fault with Haitink’s interpretation.
He maintains an overall sense of structure and never lets the
music wallow in its own massiveness. He demonstrates wonderful
contrasts of mood, tempo and dynamics, and his handling of the
Scherzo with its constant shift between confident dance forms
and somewhat disconnected contrapuntal episodes, is simply masterful.
He delivers a breathtakingly lovely adagietto, full of
all of the requisite longing and nostalgia but never succumbing
to the over-ripe sentimentality prevalent in Mr. Bernstein’s
wonderful but over the top renditions. And he brings the whole
work to a strong, joyous and full conclusion without being right
up in your face.
have a couple of issues with the orchestra, in that there are
times when the brass, particularly in the first movement, get
a little unwieldy and out of tune. The double basses and low
brass could be a bit richer sounding as well, but this may be
as much a recording issue as anything.
Paris audience is most respectful, completely
silent until the huge burst of applause at the end. This is
a fine release overall, and it is particularly interesting to
hear what a conductor like Haitink can do with an orchestra
not particularly known for their work with this composer.
as a comparison recording to such giants as Haitink with Amsterdam, Bernstein and Walter.
see also Review
by Anne Ozorio