Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor
Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between 15-19 September 2003
Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield
Reviewed: May 2005
CD No: TUDOR 7126
Duration: 72 minutes
“The goal of the multi-channel mix is to place the listener on stage – next to the conductor – rather than in the centre of a large concert hall. Acoustic clarity and an accurate reproduction of even the tiniest chamber musical nuances enable us to experience Gustav Mahler’s score on both an analytical and an emotional level.”
Thus, proudly, the above spiel, taken from the booklet, announces one of the latest recordings of Mahler 5. In a crowded market any new tack is worth plugging. But although there is a very pleasing and real sense of hearing what the conductor does, there are much simpler reasons to hear this disc, one of a series Jonathan Nott and his Bamberg Symphony Orchestra has been making. It is admirably clear, cohesive and enjoyable.
Perhaps the aural aspect helps elucidate Nott’s attention to detail, particularly that to be heard in the accompanying parts, and making clear how Mahler uses repeated rhythmic cells to power the five movements on (well, ok, four of the movements, the Adagietto being the obvious exception). From one who has experienced those rhythmic cells first-hand in playing bassoon in a performance (amazing how playing a work can imprint it so clearly in your mind), it is always a facet I listen out for. Figure 21 of the final movement (bar 497) is a case in point (bassoons, double bassoon and double basses enter with a curious, grumbling triplet figure, usually inaudible), but Nott scores in his attention to such things, both here and throughout the performance.
There is also an impressive architecture to the interpretation, which means it is not simply a collection of well-rehearsed passages glued together. Nott understands the work and his players understand his direction. The return in the final movement of the second movement’s vision of something better brings a real sense of climax, and the famous Adagietto eschews the popular misconception of it being death-orientated (Visconti and “Death in Venice” have a lot to answer for). Instead, and rightly, Nott invests it with a yearning that reflects Mahler’s avowed intent of it being a tender evocation of his love for his young wife Alma Schindler.
Clocking in at 72 minutes, Nott’s is not the most fleet-footed of Mahler 5s. It is more in line with Tennstedt (live, 73 minutes), Barbirolli’s classic (74’) and Bernstein’s Vienna Philharmonic blockbuster (75’) than with the cooler Dohnányi (65’) and Sinopoli’s first Mahler recording, acclaimed when released two decades ago (69’). And if Nott might not bring the white heat of inspiration at certain moments, as do some of these other recordings, this is a response more to do with personal taste.
Nott and the Bambergers play Mahler 5 in the first of their five concerts at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival on 29 August.