Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 5 in C-sharp minor (1902) [74:09]
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
rec. September 2012, Palace of Arts, Budapest. DDD/DSD
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCSSA34213 [74:09]
This is, I think, the fifth Mahler symphony recording
from Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra so it looks as if
a cycle is evolving. Reviews of previous issues are listed at the foot
of this review. This is the first of these Mahler performances that
I’ve heard and I believe the team have also recorded the Sixth.
There’s much to admire here: the orchestral playing is top-class and
the excellent recording reports the sound of the orchestra with great
clarity. I see that in reviewing
the Second Symphony Michael Greenhalgh commented on Fischer’s attention
to detail. That trait is in evidence here as well. A satisfying amount
of Mahler’s polyphonic writing is clearly audible without any
In a note in the booklet, the conductor describes the Fifth as Mahler’s
‘most Jewish’ symphony. In support of this contention he mentions
particularly the first and last movements. We’ll come to the finale in
due course, but speaking of the first movement Fischer refers to ‘the
unmistakeable mood of Jewish lamentation’. That’s an interesting
observation though I’m not sure just how vividly the lamentation comes
across. Fischer’s view of the movement doesn’t grab the listener by the
throat in the manner of, say, Bernstein (review)
or Tennstedt (review).
However, it’s a convincing reading. The pacing is intelligent and
there’s excellent, though not overdone, weight in the orchestral sound.
Fischer doesn’t overplay his hand in this movement and that approach
brings its own rewards. I’ve heard more turbulent accounts of the
second movement - Fischer’s reading is not as scalding and highly
charged as either Bernstein or Tennstedt are at times - but the
movement ‘works’ in his hands.
The first time I played the central scherzo I thought that the core
tempo was a bit on the steady side; some conductors take it more
quickly. However, any relative steadiness is only a matter of degree. I
became convinced, above all, perhaps, because the Budapest players
articulate the rhythms crisply. I enjoyed this nicely nuanced reading
which benefits from some acute and tangy playing. I can’t see that the
principal horn player is named in the booklet: he should be, because he
plays his vital part splendidly.
Over the years we’ve experienced on disc quite a wide variety of
approaches to the tempo of the famous Adagietto.
Some conductors - Bernstein and Tennstedt among them - opt for a very
expansive treatment of the music while others move it on at a more
flowing, less sentimental pace. I’ve come to prefer the latter
approach, not least because it rids us of those dreadful Death
in Venice associations. Fischer takes 10:42, which puts him
among the more expansive interpreters of this movement - though he’s by
no means the slowest. Even so, I didn’t feel that the music sounded
unduly slow. Fischer phrases it well and his string players - and the
harpist - play it quite beautifully.
I mentioned earlier Fischer’s view of the “Jewishness” of this
symphony. He describes the finale as ‘the childlike vision of messianic
joy’. I don’t think I’d go that far but the movement is one of the
happiest, most extrovert movements in Mahler’s output. Here it’s played
with great spirit and virtuosity. I like the fact that when the chorale
that we first glimpsed in the second movement comes back as the
crowning moment (14:27) Fischer makes it sound exultant yet, by
maintaining his tempo, he avoids any overblown rhetoric.
I enjoyed this performance of the Fifth. I don't think it displaces Barshai (review),
Bernstein or Tennstedt in my personal pantheon of great Fifths - and all those
readings bring different perspectives on this score. It still offers
much to the listener and I’m sure I will be listening to it with
pleasure in the future.
Previous review (download): Brian Wilson
Masterwork Index: Mahler
Iván Fischer’s Mahler recordings reviewed on MusicWeb
No 1 - Download
No 4 and Download