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  Deutsche Grammophon -
  477 071-2 (2 discs)
  Mahler: Symphony No. 5 - Abbado
  Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Berliner Philharmoniker
Claudio Abbado (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Reviews: 2

Review by ramesh April 18, 2005 (14 of 17 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This splendid disc makes a welcome return in SACD guise, in a sumptuous presentation of 2 SACDs, my only cavail being the 2 channel SACD mix could easily have been accommodated on one disc. The magnificent liner notes by Donald Mitchell are an obligatory read, easily one of the best to grace any recording of a late romantic symphony,and makes one regret he hasn't yet covered this work to my knowledge in his multivolume Mahlerian survey.
The performance takes its place amongst the most exalted recordings of the work, including the Barbirolli on EMI, the 1987 Bernstein on DG and a nose and cheek ahead of the Karajan; Barbirolli's is a warm and affectionate performance, but the Philharmonia sounded like they needed a couple of extra rehearsals, and the sound, even on the refurbished GROC transfer, is as musty as a Morris Minor in the garage for too long.
This work must be one of the few in the classical repertoire whose interpretative reception was inflenced, in this writer's opinion for the worse, by the medium of film; in this case, by the appropriation of the diaphanous Adagietto for the Visconti recreation of Thomas Mann's baroquely elaborate novella,'Death in Venice'. The Mann novella deals with an ageing homosexual writer's unrequited passion for a young boy, before he expires; it boggles the mind to consider what music Visconti would use to portray the Michael Jackson trial by media circus. Although Mahler's work is from the same cultural milieu as Mann, their aesthetic essences only partially overlap, rather than being of a piece. There is no direct debt, in either direction that I know of, between the symphony and novella; the Mahler is earlier by about a decade. The work hence has been refracted through this extraordinary confluence of high European film and literature, and is probably the reason why the adagietto has been performed as a bittersweet elegy, or Barber's adagio, but with the knobs on.
Both the Karajan and Bernstein versions sound like interpretations in the vein of the Visconti- Mann axis; the adagietto is prolonged, if not to heavenly lengths, then to purgatorial ones(as some may feel this review is).The VPO Bernstein is for me, still supreme with the exception of the adagietto, with an astonishingly sardonic second movement, and a central Scherzo, surely the most formidably protean in the entire symphonic repertoire, of the fullest emotional amplitude; by turns coy, lilting, sarcastic, Olympian, terrifying, inflected by a Kandinsky-like tonal palette. Abbado's second recording, live in the difficult to record Berlin Philharmonie, breaks from this interpretative schema. The work proceeds as usual, from a funeral march to the exultation of the finale, but the adagietto is made into the pivot around which the bitterness of the opening movement is processed into what would otherwise be the cod optimism of the finale. It is fleet and silvery, with an opening of the most sublime tenderness; Mitchell implies it is a wordless love song, not static but healing through its chaste lyricism. Bernstein's and Karajan's transformation of it into a funeral march, while convincing on a note by note basis, is interpretatively redundant viewing the work as a whole, because the first movement is the dirge, and the ensuing three movements are the journey to the finale, which can sound arch if this progression isn't followed.
As regards the sonics, I have the Rattle BPO on EMI DVDA at 24/48 PCM, and the Zander SACD (DSD); I haven't heard the Pentatone version. The Abbado SACD says it is 24/44.1 PCM, but on 2 channel stereo, the work is opened out dramatically, compared to the RBCD. There is still PCM glare, but the lift in performance makes this almost a mandatory purchase for Mahler on SACD.The Zander Telarc has the nicest sounding recording, and the Philharmonia's execution is superior to on Barbirolli, though their string tone isn't a patch on the resplendent BPO. (Beckmessering here, the guttier more astringent tone of the VPO simply sounds more idiomatic in the second and third movements). If one has only heard the Zander, not the alternatives listed earlier, it is very satisfying; it doesn't scale the heights, but there is nothing to be grumpy about. It is the sort of recording a Stereophile or Absolute Sound equipment reporter would heartily commend. The Rattle BPO live is closer to Abbado than the other comparisons I have listened to, but bafflingly, the live recording doesn't yield a concomitant gain in energy; and the sound while adequate,is murky and subfusc for what purports to be high resolution audio. It had everything in its favour, not least thorough preparation on an occasion clearly important to the conductor, but it sounds 80% there, an impressive artistic manifesto which fell at the last hurdle.

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Review by Rudy A-Traxx September 7, 2006 (6 of 30 found this review helpful)
Why calling it multichannel when it's just some reverb on the surround channel. I'm upset !

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Works: 1  

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor