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Mahler - Symphony No. 5 Hybrid SACD

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The San Francisco Symphony, one of America's most forward-looking arts organizations, presents over 220 concerts each year, creates leading edge media initiatives such as Keeping Score on PBS television and its own Grammy-winning record label SFS Media, and serves its community with one of the most extensive education and community programs of any orchestra in the country. Led by its ... Read more in Amazon's San Francisco Symphony Store

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Product details

  • Audio CD (19 Dec 2008)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Hybrid SACD
  • Label: SFS Media
  • ASIN: B000ICLU0E
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 383,671 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Song Title Time Price
Listen  1. Symphony No. 5: I. Trauermarsch12:34Album Only
Listen  2. Symphony No. 5: II. Stürmisch bewegt, mit grösster Vehemenz15:10Album Only
Listen  3. Symphony No. 5: III. Scherzo: Kräftig, nicht zu schnell19:19Album Only
Listen  4. Symphony No. 5: IV. Adagietto. sehr langsam10:48Album Only
Listen  5. Symphony No. 5: V. Rondo-Finale. Allegro15:25Album Only

Product Description

One of today's most significant recording cycles continues with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony offering the eighth instalment in their award-winning cycle of Mahler Symphonies, the ever-popular Fifth. The project's uncommon critical and commercial success have brought the exceptional conductor-orchestra partnership two Grammy Awards and numerous citations throughout the world. Every release has entered the Top Ten of the Billboard Classical Chart. MTT has distinguished himself as one of the world's foremost Mahler interpreters, and through his signature performances, as one of the composer's most compelling advocates. Last year his achievements were recognised by The Gramophone who named him Artist of the Year.

San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor)

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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By rjmcr on 22 Sep 2010
Format: Audio CD
This is the penultimate instalment of Tilson Thomas' SACD Mahler cycle with his San Francisco orchestra. On the whole it has been a frustrating and tedious experience to listen to and this account of the Fifth Symphony does little to make amends.

As usual, the orchestra plays incredibly well and is very responsive to the conductor's baton but, after listening to this recording, I have never been more convinced that this partnership simply cannot speak Mahler's language. They could not make a vulgar, uncouth or savage sound if they tried (which they don't); there are no rough edges anywhere, no personality or character, and very little emotional involvement. The string tone is thin and, despite a pleasant horn tone, the brass section lacks weight and projection. The overall sound is just too light and shallow and cannot compare to the Philharmonics of London, Vienna and Berlin for Tennstedt, Bernstein and Abbado respectively, or Barbirolli's Philharmonia. No amount of fancy sonic engineering can change that.

Worse still, however, is Tilson Thomas' conducting. I am not averse to an `interventionist' approach in Mahler if it is handled with integrity, subtlety and serves the music. Tilson Thomas, on the other hand, comes across as gauche, clumsy and self-serving. He constantly cajoles, hassles, pokes and stretches the music and you are never allowed to forget his presence. The Scherzo really suffers here to the point where it just about undermines the whole performance. It is a movement of almost continuous development but must also bridge the gap between the stormy first two movements and the more lyrically straightforward final two movements.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 12 reviews
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Actually, the sound is exceptional and the performance near the best 19 Oct 2006
By Jonathan Angel - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This situation begs for an alternative review. The first review here characterizes Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Mahler's 5th as a " tepid run-through by an uninvolved conductor and a bored orchestra," yet he also criticizes the performance for excessive rubato and other micromanagement.

Well, you can't have it both ways. This is like criticizing a car for driving blandly, like a Toyota Camry, and at the same time darting all over the road like a 20-year-old Porsche. Whether rubato and fetishes about various detail are excessive or not is a matter of opinion (see later), but it's a fact that a conductor can't pull them off by being "uninvolved."

Like my predecessor, I'll "start with the engineering." Among other considerations, the San Francisco Symphony has commendably used Super Audio CD (SACD) encoding for its entire Mahler cycle. (This is despite the naysayers who dismiss SACD as an irrelevant commercial failure.) That they did so is symptomatic of the general commitment to audio quality in all these recordings.

I am a former recording engineer, and listened to this disc using a SACD player, whose output was fed to high-end stereo separates and studio monitor speakers. I also listened to the standard CD layer, ripped to an iPod Nano. Worst-case, i.e. on the Nano in stereo, the recording was almost as good as its best competitors. (I guess I should have said, there are many other great recordings of Mahler's 5th symphony.)

Best-case is SACD, where like others of its ilk this disc provides audio quality that is riveting. Handled with care, SACD comes closer to live music or a master tape, and the difference is not subtle. Here, there is depth, excellent orchestral balance, and an immersive sense of acoustical space. (And to any critical music lover who says SACD is too costly to bother with, decent players -- which also play DVDs -- are easily available for $200 or less.)

Now to the music. In the overall framework of a negative review, my predecessor actually cites many exceptional qualities of this performance, and there I agree with him. Tilson-Thomas is steeped in Mahler and as for the orchestra's response, they do what he wants on nearly a Chicago Symphony level. (They can't match the Berlin Philharmonic's virtuosity, but then what other orchestra possibly could except God's own?)

As a Bay Area native who rarely attends SFSO concerts, I was prepared to dismiss the orchestra's contribution as second-rate, and I was late to jump onto the Tilson-Thomas Mahler bandwagon. But when I did, his recordings confounded my prejudices -- and this one is no exception.

A conductor whose name is practically synonymous with Mahler -- especially the 5th -- is Leonard Bernstein. Lenny is a conductor you have to hear, but personally I prefer a more literal approach, without infuriating agogic distortions. Let Mahler make his own points, don't bother with special pleading.

Examples of more straightforward Mahler 5ths would be the (wonderful) recordings by Simon Rattle and Claudio Abbado. Yet returning to Tilson-Thomas' disc after these reveals him to be "Bernstein lite," a conductor whose flexibility is noticeable but never annoying, always true to the score. Even in the famous Adagietto, which to my mind needs a clear-eyed "innocent" approach, MTT pulls it off.

As a Mahler fanatic, I would hate to live without 5ths by Abbado, Bruno Walter, and perhaps others. Bernstein's Vienna Philharmonic 5th is also one I wouldn't be without. When you're talking about music on this level, no one performance can be "best."

To my mind, MTT's 5th will delight both those who are new to this music and those who know it well. There's a sense of occasion and electricity about this 5th; in fact, I instinctively feel that it will still be remembered in 50 years, long after most others have been forgotten

The only demerit on this disc is the SACD price. To me, the audio quality is worth it, but this very same recording is available on iTunes for just $10.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Possibly the Best Rendering of Mahler's Explosive Homage to Beethoven 29 April 2012
By classicalsteve - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The first recording I ever heard of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 was the Deutsche Grammophon recording with Guiseppe Sinopoli at the helm from circa 1990, an outstanding performance by any standard. MTT's offering with the San Francisco is even better. MTT and the SF Symphony bring an explosive and dynamic take on the symphony which is unquestionably a homage to one of Mahler's own inspirations, Beethoven. The first movement, Tauermarch, begins with the lone trumpet solo of a triplet followed by a quarter until it is answered by full tutti orchestra, recalling the tragic opening to Beethoven's 5th Symphony written 100 years earlier. The triplet followed by the quarter-note note motive recurs throughout the movement contrasted with a lyrical albeit haunting second theme in the strings. One of the most electrifying moments is in the recapitulation when the lower brass are given their opportunity to intone the triplet motive, and MTT holds nothing back. The thick brass chords bellow thick and dark like a call from the Underworld. The second movement is equally explosively, turbulent music invoking a tale of epic and tragic porportions, like a war from the Middle Ages or Antiquity. The motives of the second movement are stark, short, either roaring like thunder or cascasing like lightning. The second theme begins with an unsettling repeated-figure in the winds which accompanies a haunting string theme, similar to that of the first movement. The lighter playful third movement is a welcome relief from the turbulence of the first two movements. And then everything calms for the serenity of the fourth movement scored only for strings and harp, one of the most beautiful passages ever written by Mahler. In MTT's hands, the listener is transported to paradise and back. The last movement brings the symphony to a triumph and satisfying close. One of Mahler's best symphonies, only equalled by the 2nd, 3rd and 7th. In MTT's hands, you are not just listening to music. You are transported to another world.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Pouring oil on the waves ... 4 Nov 2006
By Pater Ecstaticus - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The Michael Tilson Thomas Mahler cycle with the San Fransisco Symphony Orchestra is now nearing completion with a generally satisfying reading of the Fifth Symphony. The whole cycle will in a whole and on itself make a nice little stack of colorful, nicely polished, technically outstanding performances. Most of the time the playing is distinctive, with smooth ensemble playing, sometimes 'rising above the notes' in wonderful performances. Up to now, I find the First, Sixth and Seventh stand out as especially excellent.
But however gorgeous the sound and however beautifully polished and refined the ensemble playing, I find that these performances sometimes gloss over too much, or better: do not evoke enough, the anxiety and raw emotion - the sense of 'heart and nerves laid bare'. This is especially the case here, I think, with this recording of the Fifth Symphony, where as a result of going for a beautiful sound and for smooth ensemble playing, I think maybe too much oil is poured on the waves ... Especially in Mahler's Fifth, the conductor should stress the outrageousness of this music, where different voices in the orchestra are constanly vying (as in: shouting, crying, pleading ...) for attention, almost independently from each other sometimes.
The Adagietto, when we have finally arrived there, doesn't at all feel like the logically and emotionally needed (contrastingly different) 'arrival after much turmoil'. And above this, the orchestral playing as such leaves me quite cold here also, which is a shame. Although I must say that it does sound very tender here, so I am cast to doubt again ... (And appreciation of the Adagietto does't have anything to do with the tempo, because in one of my favorite recordings of the symphony, namely the one by Benjamin Zander on Telarc, the same piece is quite a bit (more than 2 minutes) faster [8:33], but it does make the heart strings of this particular listener resonate.) Also, the Part II Scherzo isn't as dizzyingly mesmerizing as should be, I believe. Maybe also because it is played a bit slowly here (taking up more than 19 minutes) and without much tension, too relaxed (like the whole of Part I as well, actually), after which the emotionally dry Adagietto almost feels a bit gratuitous, I am sorry to say (because it is quite a pity).
This performance misses out something on the 'soul' of this music. At no point does this recording really 'lift off' and come alive as many other recordings of this symphony (or, for that matter, as other recordings in this cycle), like (among others) the ones by Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic (1947), Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra (2000) and Bernard Haitink's zestful live-recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Eurovision Christmas Matinee concert, 1986).
I believe that this recording does fit in nicely with the rest of the Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Mahler cycle and as such it is a safe buy for collectors (of which I am certainly one). But on itself it is not at all a prime recommendation for this recording, however gorgeous the orchestral playing and the recording as such. (Be warned though, that there is a little glitch/wobble in the sound of the stereo-layer of this CD at [5:03] during the 5th movement - a pity and a shame, especially for this kind of money). For that it just sounds too uninvolved emotionally, lacking tragedy, tension and drama. Maybe the conductor is on an altogether different plane of thought here, like in his recording of Mahler's Ninth Symphony, which - notwithstanding the music's heavy connotations of leave-taking - breathes a same kind of 'emotional detachment' as this recording of the Fifth. This may be a result of some unique vision, I don't know, but I'm afraid I do not really follow here - at least, not for the moment.
Anyway, this recording does take a bit to get used to (and maybe a whole different mind-set), compared with what I am used to and with what I love and have come to expect with this music. But maybe I'll start to like it more and more during years to come, when a recording, so to say, 'grows on you', which can indeed happen sometimes. So for the moment I can only listen and learn (this complex music does of course need intellectual engagement as much as emotional evolvement), and hope that the effort and money will ultimately be well spent ;-)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars for MTT's Interpretation ... 1 Oct 2009
By Giordano Bruno - Published on
... which I've just come home from hearing live in San Francisco. Thomas has insights into Mahler, into the Bach-influenced polyphony of Mahler, into the allusions Mahler makes continually to Haydn, into Mahler's complex 'religious' identity as a doubting Jew, that other conductors seem not to have, and he's able to communicate his insights to an orchestra that is a half-step short of world class. Let's go for broke and declare that MTT is the most interesting interpreter of Mahler on the loose today.

As for this recording, eh, what is there to say? The sound is inadequate. Big surprise. To squeeze Mahler's Fifth Symphony onto a digital CD and through a sound system of three to five speakers is way less possible than the proverbial camel through the needle's eye. It's like cramming a full five-course dinner at the best French provincial restaurant you know into a squeeze tube for consumption on an orbiting space station. If you've never 'liked' Mahler much, on the basis of recordings, get yourself to a live performance - any live performance - as soon as possible. If it's Michael Tilson Thomas conducting, so much the better!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A lyrical, refined Mahler Fifth, one of MTT's best efforts 18 Mar 2007
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Michael Tilson Thomas can come off as a lightweight who skates over the surface of a score without plunging into its emotional depths. But to turn that accusation on its head, he is a refined musician with a sense of detail and delicacy rather than power and drama. The ideal Mahler conductor needs to possess both halves. A shortage of visceral impact has made me shy away from MTT's Mahler cycle, but this Fifth is stunning. The recorded sound alone qualifies for raves--I've never heard such naturalness and warmth in the Fifth. But more importantly, the Mahler Fifth suits this conductor's temperament.

The music operates between extremes, ecstatic storming of the heavens and funereal gloom, manic outbursts and hushed quiescence. Its extremism tempts conductors to bombard us with garish effects or to twist the musical line into contortions to prove how profoundly affected they are. MTT takes the course of moderation, and where Barenboim, for instance, tortures the score with crude over-statement, Tilson Thomas takes every opportunity to point out the delicacy of quiet passages. Add to this the alert, sensitive playing of the SFSO, and the chemistry works--I paid attention from beginning to end. (For those who keep tabs, the Adagietto takes 10:48 min. here and is performed without overtones of grief. MTT extracts a dreamy wistfulness that is quite lovely.)

Good as tis CD is, Mahler has inspired other great eprformances that transcend this one, from Karajan, Barshai, Abbado, Barbirolli, and the all but forgotten Sir Rudolf Schwarz, a Nazi-era emigre who made a career in London and whose Mahler Fifth on Everest is the performance of a lifetime.
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