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There are more dramatic and powerful recordings of 5th by other conductors like Bernstein, Abbado, Solti, Levine, and Tennstedt (Live Version), but Karajan's 1974 stereo recording will be remembered, as long as this world lasts, as the one with the most sublime performace of Adagietto. Paced dangerously slowly (11:50) yet powerfully captivating from beginning to the final fading note, Karajan captures the rapt serenity and other-worldly beauty of the music like no other conductors could manage. The sound of strings is as lavishing and overwhelming as can be. Emotional intensity in the climax is almost unbearable! Acoustics is unbelievably expansive and dreamy as if the music comes from heaven. This is a perfect recording in every sense of the word.

Rest of the movements are played superbly, if not as passionate as Bernstein in the 1st and the last movements.
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on 19 October 2001
This was Herbert von Karajan's first recording of a Mahler symphony and in almost every respect it is superior to the recordings of more experienced Mahler interpreters (e.g. Barbirolli). The recording has a compelling intensity about it, particularly the adagietto, and is excellently played from the gloomy first movements to the jaunty finale. This disc in my opinion epitomises the very high quality recordings produced by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in the 1970s, and is an ideal introduction to Mahler for those unfamiliar with the works of this often misunderstood composer.
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on 26 September 2013
I know there's no such thing as a definitive performance of any work but l highly rate this one because Karajan seems to get inside the work especially the adagietto the fourth movement where the last few bars take longer than is usually is taken by other conductors to resolve making it for me at least more intense and it works so well given the whole movements mood and tone its remarkable and very beautiful. The whole work is played by an orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker with such commitment that for me they and of course Herbert von Karajan make it a sublime experience. It is said that Mahler wrote the 5th symphony when he was at his happiness l feel sure he would be very happy with this interpretation of it. I fully recommend it.
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on 11 November 2009
I more or less grew up with Karajan. If my parents bought classical music in the seventies and eighties, it was usually on a DGG record with Karajan at the helm of the BPO. German television, which we used to watch a lot (there wasn't much else besides our own two Dutch networks), broadcast a classical concert every Sunday at noon (Das Sonntagskonzert) with, more often than not, Karajan and the BPO. When I started buying classical music on CD myself, it was only natural that I should pick Karajan's as the preferred version.
Only later did I come to appreciate that Karajan's way of conducting wasn't always how the music was best served (his Mozart being too syruppy and too string-laden) and I struck him from my list as first choice.
I strongly hesitated therefore to let him have a go at Mahler's Fifth, but on the strenght of some the very positive reviews on Amazon (UK, German and US) I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I must admit the Adagietto is heavenly (despite its extraordinary length), but only marginally more so than Bertini's (WDR 1990), Gielen's (SWR 2003), Neumann's (Leipzig 1967), Solti's (CSO 1970) or Chailly's (RCO 1998). True, Karajan/BPO attack the Stürmisch Bewegt and the Rondo-Finale with a gusto seldom heard from these Siamese twins, but less so than Barshai (JDP 1999) or Levine (PSO 1976) whose barnstorming handling is truly revelatory. (A very rare thing in a Karajan performance is that the first trumpet plays a wrong note (first movement at 7:20) and the first horn is flat at the entry of the Scherzo.) Similar observations could be made of the other movements. So there is nothing extraordinary in this performance that sets it apart from other ones (negatively or positively) or that would make it a clear first choice (which, as far as I'm concerned, there never is).
The big let-down is the recording quality. The balance is mainly in favour of the strings, while brass and tympani crescendos disproportionately explode from the speakers. The bass-tuba is almost absent from the aural picture in its short solo; the important bass drum and tam-tam strokes are hardly audible; the very last bars of the Rondo-Finale are so unbalanced that you don't hear the triangle or the boom-ching of the bass-drum and cymbal at all; the fast rising string figure just before the end is one big blur; often it is as if one of the engineers thought it it a good idea to turn a microphone up or down without any preconceived idea. The booklet indicates that Karajan couldn't stop listening to the master tape of this recording and he seems to have uttered "loud exclamations of delight at the quality of this recording". Well, I for one didn't and if I return to it, it will mainly be for the Adagietto.
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on 13 March 2012
marvellous romantic interpretation, yet includes just enough Schmaeh to satisfy us germanists. my original side 3 got covered in vodka when I was a teenager so I was glad to see this cd version of this old classic.
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on 22 August 2015
Good listening.
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