The nine Mahler symphonies are such great musical achievements that no one recording can ever be definitive. That said, it is an immense pleasure to have the great Mahler conductor Sir John Barbirolli's 1969 account of the vast Fifth Symphony available on this current release. The recording is a Gramophone
magazine Top 100 selection, chosen as one of the most important classical recordings ever issued and a cornerstone of any serious collection. Concordant with this status, the sound has been digitally remastered for exceptional quality, bringing out every detail of the original tapes, while reducing hiss and other blemishes to the absolute minimum. Here is warmth, insight and power, with Barbirolli allowing the symphony to live in its own time, unfolding over 74 minutes through the intensely dramatic "Sturmisch Bewegt", the timelessly beautiful "Adagietto" to the celebratory "Rondo-Finale". Issued as part of EMI Classics Great Recordings of the Century (a series that also includes Kathleen Ferrier in Mahler's Kindertotenlieder
, and well as Klemperer conducting Das Lied von der Erde
with Christa Ludwig and Fritz Wunderlich), this really is an essential album. However, those who insist on more modern sound will be well rewarded by Claudio Abbado's thrilling 1993 live recording of the same work, which finds the Berlin Philharmonic on absolutely top form. --Gary S. Dalkin
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