Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor
Sir Simon Rattle
Recorded live at performances at the Philharmonie, Berlin between 7-10 September 2002
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2002
CD No: EMI 5 57385 2
Rush-released to coincide with the Berlin Philharmonic’s current tour, Mahler 5 is played at London’s Royal Festival Hall this Saturday, the 12th.
This world-involving release of a new beginning for the BPO finds the orchestra working overtime for its new Chief; he in turn is fired-up. What could have been an over-the-top, incendiary Mahler performance instead radiates to textures and emotions that are, respectively, glowing and long-term. To be honest, I had anticipated some indiscretions, but this is a honeymoon in the best possible sense – and it’s good to have this reporting of the consummation so soon after the nuptials! One senses mutual admiration; one hears the sparks flying – but not at the expense of the music. Indeed, it’s the chamber-music qualities that grip the attention, and it’s good to hear a Berlin Philharmonic less keen on section-by-section competing and brass-dominated balances that have been recent undesirables and which have questioned the status of this world-famous orchestra.
This is a lean, lithe and linear Mahler 5. Rattle intervenes with tempo alterations that nearly almost convince and which relate pertinent volatility; he also introduces telling use of portamento. Passages that could swoon do not; those that could be saturated in treacle are not. Part-writing is wonderfully clear and the music is lived through its gamut of emotions; one hears an intriguing partnership sparking and melding – and serving the music.
Ironically, it’s the ’Adagietto’ that is the least convincing. Rattle’s tempo flows nicely, the opening phrasing is simplicity itself (the tempo is similar to Barbirolli and Kubelík) but mannerisms creep in; what should be an uncomplicated love-letter to Alma becomes emboldened, italicised and underlined. Here, and elsewhere, Rattle’s use of antiphonal violins pays dividends. In the preceding movement, Rattle, based on something Mahler was contemplating (in a letter to Mengelberg), brings the horn soloist to the front of the platform. I’m not sure of the wisdom of documenting something that Mahler himself never actually tried under concert conditions; in reality, the horn sounds too close and out of proportion with other solos.
Ultimately, this CD’s circumstances make it a one-off – a ’download’ of recent events. As the Berlin/Rattle relationship develops, future Mahler 5s will be different (this seems a piece Rattle is still growing into) and it could be an ideal piece to mark stages of Rattle’s work in Berlin.
This CD news-item presents a very enjoyable Mahler 5, one that will repay listening for its textural clarifications, dynamism (even if the recording itself is a tad restricted in this respect) and a free-flowing view of the score that marries feverish outburst with hushed intimacy, length and line with vivid and tangible detail.