- Orchestra: New Philharmonia
- Conductor: Sir John Barbirolli
- Composer: Gustav Mahler
- Audio CD (5 Oct. 1998)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: CD
- Label: EMI
- ASIN: B00002439L
- Other Editions: Audio CD | Audio Cassette | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,353 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
Mahler: Symphony No. 5 CD
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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
Top customer reviews
As for this recording of the Fifth, it has long been a classic of the gramophone. And deservedly so. Despite being, these days, probably the most popular of all the Mahler symphonies, it is not at all easy to bring off well. Mahler' music was in a stage of transition from his Wunderhorn period to the bleaker world of Symphonies 6 & 7. Here in No.5 he was trying out his new-found confidence in counterpoint and fugal writing. Here, too, is a newly won ability to play amazing sleight-of-hand tricks with his harmonic modulations, especially in the infamous Adagietto.
Barbirolli has a matchless ability to combine passion and the full weight of Romantic angst with intellectual rigour. The centre of gravity in the two linked first movements in Sir John's hands is the intense Kindertotenlieder derived funeral march rather than the trumpet and brass flourishes of the opening. He reveals how close its kinship is with all those other Mahlerian funeral marches from the First Symphony's slow movement through to the profound development in the Ninth's opening movement. The Scherzo is just glorious in this recording - impertinent, quirky, idiosyncratic, rumbustious, stompingly pesante by turns. The Adagietto is perhaps a little self-indulgently broad by modern standards, but Sir John is a master of all its conjuring tricks of enharmonic modulation from key to unexpected key. The final rondo, like so many of Mahler's finales, is the toughest movement to bring off. Barbirolli manages its tricky combination of Wunderhorn sarcasm with contrapuntal dexterity and fugal rigour perfectly. When the main theme of the Adagietto reappears here in Till Eulenspiegel style dress, Sir John catches just the right note of perkiness. And, as the chorale - so rudely cut off in its prime in the second movement - bursts through to the electrifying coda, it seems no less than the fitting end to this glorious performance.
A recording to treasure.
In spite of being over forty years old the recording was digitally remastered in 1998 and is as clear and bright as any you will find today. If you only purchase one copy of Mahler's 5th, I would make it this one.
Mahler - Symphony No 5
All three orchestras are deeply impressive; one notes the famous depth and sonority of the Chicago brass, the beauty of the Philharmonia woodwind and the all-round élan and precision of the RPO in ensemble. Abbado's approach, as his is wont and forté, is more majestic, while Shipway generates incredible energy and momentum, especially in that rumbustious finale. Barbirolli, by contrast, as I said before, seems to convey the most affection for this great work and he has an acute sense of its architecture, subtly moulding phrases con amore. It helps that he has at his disposal one of the finest orchestras of its day.
In the end, "you pays your money and you takes your choice"; if push came to shove I would choose above all the surprise disc of Shipway and the RPO even over Abbado and the Chicago, by virtue of the DDD sound and the youthful attack the former bring to Mahler, but in truth their interpretations are very similar and both are played to the highest artistic and interpretative standards. Barbirolli will remain others' favourite for reasons of nostalgia and a preference for a more restrained approach, but I think his version is now definitely superseded.
Most recent customer reviews
This recording may seem very dated to many people. It's slow (some may say self-indulgent), the sound quality and definition are poor and the...Read more
An essential item.