Mahler Symphony No.5 – Laurel Records

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor

Junge Deutsche Philharmonie conducted by Rudolf Barshai

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2001

This CD’s iconoclastic status was initiated by enthusiastic opinions first appearing on classical music websites; one such claims Barshai’s Mahler 5 as the finest ever.

Performed on 9 September 1997, in Berlin or Cologne (the booklet note is confused), the recording is designated ADD. The sound is decent enough albeit the acoustic is rather cavernous – balance is variable, textures are inflated and tuttis attract glare. Microphone placing could be questioned – one wonders if Barshai intended the gong stroke at 13’27” in the second movement to be as enveloping as this.

I question whether this is a single rendition. All-too-audible editing, different hiss levels and changes of ambience betray a rough-and-ready job with the scissors – perhaps the dress rehearsal has been spliced into the actual performance.

Barshai’s structure-conscious, no-nonsense interpretation has a welcome seriousness of purpose; meticulous rehearsing informs the musicians’ skill, energy and commitment. Barshai’s lucidity – Is dotted, Ts crossed – is negated by a perfunctory finale, which is denied the pertinent characterisation of the opening movements. The 8’17” ’Adagietto’ is pleasingly kept moving – surely what Mahler intended; as this movement closes, ’black hole’ editing introduces the finale with faint left-channel whistle and empty-of-audience ambience.

This is distracting, and compromises, as does the tonally and dynamically limited reproduction, the merits of a reading undoubtedly interesting to seasoned Mahlerians. Ultimately, Barshai’s strictness inhibits the music’s scope – one thinks first not of a probing interpretation but poor production values. The evident hard work of conductor and orchestra warranted better presentation.

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