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Mahler Symphony No.5.

fanfaremag.com Dave Saemann
Classical Reviews - Composers & Works

This is the most beautifully played Mahler Fifth I’ve ever heard. My high school music teacher, Nicholas Tino, said of a concert performance of Bruckner’s Third by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra that it was “too clean.” There’s no danger of that here. It is a joy to hear the harmonies of the Fifth so gorgeously delineated. At times the orchestral texture manifests an ethereal quality. Iván Fischer writes, “The Fifth is the most Jewish of all Mahler’s symphonies. The first movement takes us to the unmistakable mood of Jewish lamentation, the finale to the childlike vision of messianic joy.” Fischer interprets the melodies of the Fifth as being generally Jewish. He finds the influence of Yiddish song, klezmer music, and cantorial chant. Even the opening trumpet solo possesses a cantorial quality. As Mahler selects primal thematic material, so he must devise his most progressive symphony to date to give it expression. In this regard, there is a similarity to Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps . Not in the Fifth do we find the relatively conservative palette of the “Resurrection” Symphony or the first movement of the Eighth, with their Christian ethos. Mahler describes the Fifth’s Scherzo as “this primeval music, this foaming, roaring, raging sea of sound.” Iván Fischer’s interpretation of the Fifth gives us the breathtaking newness of this work, while couching it in the most sophisticated orchestral execution.

The funeral march of the opening movement possesses impressive depth and weight. It is indebted to Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung in style. But this is a particularly Jewish form of mourning, with the male bereaved tearing their jacket pockets. Fischer gets an appropriately wailing sound out of the brass. The next movement begins with a vehement exhortation over life’s tragedy. Its second subject constitutes an inconclusive narrative about life’s virtues in our vale of tears. Fischer’s attention here to coloration reminds us that Mahler reworked the orchestration over nine years. At one point, the orchestra mimics a Yiddish singer sobbing. The waltz that opens the Scherzo is a klezmer band’s rather than a grand Viennese waltz. The scoring for strings imitates street musicians instead of a salon orchestra. Pizzicato strings offer a foretaste of the Second Viennese School’s orchestration, while the winds and brass have a touch of a barrel organ. If you superimposed all these different ensembles on one another, the product would sound like Charles Ives. Fischer’s Adagietto is beautiful and unaffected, owing something to the Liebestod from Tristan in its ebb and flow. As Zubin Mehta has said, Mahler is one of Wagner’s children. Fischer observes the attacca marking at the start of the Finale. This is important, because it is love that leads to the Rondo’s rebirth in its sophisticated nature poetry. Fischer paces it like a great stream slowly building strength. The concluding chorale evokes a Baroque cathedral’s splendor, immediately dissipated in the riotous, klezmer-like coda.

The CD stereo reproduction is quite beautiful, with a broad soundstage and exquisite balance. There might have been slightly more instrumental timbre. I could not access the surround sound program. Other Fifths I like include those of Leonard Bernstein and Lorin Maazel, both with the Vienna Philharmonic, and Sakari Oramo’s with the City of Birmingham Symphony. I’m also fond of Antal Doráti’s account with the Stockholm Philharmonic on HNH LPs, less than virtuosic but exhibiting great heart. Iván Fischer’s version definitely ranks with these recordings. It is a performance of terrific insight and maturity, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra staking its claim to be one of the world’s great ensembles.