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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 5 - San Francisco/Michael Tilson Thomas

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Reviews: 4

Review by Edvin October 13, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
Another great performance from MTT and his wonderful orchestra. The fifth is quite difficult to bring off because so much of the music is all over the place. And a lot of it is really loud, without ever getting brutal. There are so many changes in tempos and dynamics that the conductor has to be on his toes constantly. Also the melodies are of the kind that they often start with an upbeat and if I can find anything to critizise it is Tilson Thomas to be a little over-caring in those upbeats. This disturbed me in the first movement and only around 8 minutes in.

Let me start with the Adagietto, sehr langsam. MTT takes 10.49 and it doesn´t feel too slow at all. This is due to the chamber music-like playing and the phrasing that keeps it flexible. The string sound is not of the beefy Berlin/Karajan kind at all. No, this is fat free, lean cuisine. MTT holds back and we don´t get a full fortissimo until the last page. Well, the movement is only five pages long, but you know what I mean. This is exactly the way I wan´t this music to be played and for some reason I was reminded of the Siegfried-Idyll by Wagner. We are very far from Visconti and Venice.

In the first movement MTT adopts a not too slow approach, something I welcome, 12.35. The first tutti says a lot of what we can expect in terms of orchestral balance and recorded sound, and I like both. This is a transparent Mahler where every little sforzato is registered because of MTT´s feeling for detail. No Rattle or Fischer micro-management here though, far from it. The movement unolds in a most natural way with only the slight exaggerations I mentioned above. A highly dramatic reading with some amazing playing from the orchestra.

The Stürmish is precisely that. Long and intense string lines abrupted by all this power with brass shining. It is important never to lose the intensity even when the music slows down and becomes melodic and beautiful, something dark, an ogre, is lurking in the dark. Maybe more a demon than an ogre. MTT handles this stop and go music as a master and when I listened the first time I had to put away my score. The music making is that engaging. 15.04.

And then there is a long Scherzo, not to fast, 19.12. The solo horn is excellent and placed in the orchestra, a good choice. MTT has played some jazz and is familiar with the art of improvisation. You can tell by the way he suddenly pushes forward and then holds back, all with total conviction.
Again I compliment the intensity in the melodic music making and the air of spontaneity MTT evokes.

The finale is a bagatell that can be disposed of easily, 15.25. Or, that has been my experience many times over the years. The truth is the contrary and the real test of a great Mahler five is in the finale. It is not one of the composer´s greater movement and thus it needs more care than the others. Never lose focus, never lose momentum. These artists never does and they bring this symphony home with a holiday.

The sound is wonderful with a wide dynamic range (I saw that the amazon reviewer found the sound compressed, wonder what he/she listens on). You can hear every detail, almost, and still be a part of the concert experience. The engineers are doing a great job because I don´t think that it is easy to capture the SFSO realistically in that hall. I don´t know if my ears are decieving me but I thought that the rears were a little louder in the second movement. Maybe I´m wrong.
This goes right to the top of my list.

What a great cycle this is!

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Review by Dr. O November 16, 2006 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Another great addition to the Mahler symphonic cycle by MTT and the SFS! Now, only the mighty 8th remains to be recorded and released!

I attended the live performance of this work. It continues to be a joy to me to hear how wonderfully the full range and the subtle acoustics of compositions such as this can and are "captured" by the recording engineers. As with all of the other releases, this one too takes its place with them as a total triumph!

The Adagietto is, of course, sublime. You will simply be mesmerized by it! And the wonderfully playful and at times abrupt dynamic and timbral explosions - so much a trademark of Mahler's style - are captured in a most wonderful and satisfying way!

Mahler devotees owe it to themselves to own every single installment of these magical performances by all involved - the Maestro, the Orchestra, and the superb recording specialists!

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Review by sgfnorth November 23, 2006 (7 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This cycle has been consistent in both the excellence of the recorded sound and the clarity of the direction provided by MTT. This SACD captures the sound wonderfully - and MTT's ear for detail makes this a double delight. The orchestra are superb - quite on a par with the best in the world, in particular the winds sound like a band operating like a flock of birds as one yet each independent, the solos are wonderfully moulded to the music. The brass are especially characterful too - nice to hear a difference between horns and trombones.

For me this work is not a favourite amongst Mahler's output and often can sound trite. MTT avoids any melodrama but in following the composer's instructions he reveals something akin to over composition IMHO. The result is that I find the finale slightly underwhelming as he follows the composers fiddling with tempi to the letter. The middle movements more intriguing and have real depth and MTT is a most satisfying story teller.

I find I'm getting to like it more each time I listen - hearing something new with every audition.

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Review by seth December 21, 2009 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Thomas leads a big romantic performance of the 5th. While he never gets in the way of the music, he has few insights to offer -- it's a solid performance, but I didn't feel that I took anything new away from the Symphony. The only major gaffe of his is a bit of rubato before launching into the 5th movement coda. Above the penultimate bar before rehearsal number 34, the score says: "rit. molto accelerando;" then at 34 it says "allegro molto." It sounds like MTT treats the penultimate bar as ritardando times the already ritardando tempo that the music has been in since the 8th bar before rehearsal number 34. And then there really isn't any "molto accelerando" -- it's just "allegro molto." Prior to hearing this recording I heard Thomas do the same thing live in concert; I thought it was a snafu by the orchestra. After I heard the recording, I realized that this was a deliberate choice, and a terrible one in my opinion. It sounds like someone in the orchestra is hesitating and holding the rest of the musicians back. I guess this is a minor quibble, but I find it frustrating to listen to.

My only other complaint is that Thomas takes the adagietto rather slow. Not only do I think the music sounds better when played faster (such as 9 minutes total playing time), but it fits better into the overall architecture of the Symphony. The adagietto is more of an intermezzo than a movement.

Like the interpretation, the sound is big and warm, but problematically over-reverberant. Instruments physically located in the back of the stage have a hard time coming through in the balance. For instance, the triangle can be barely audible in the tuttis. Further, either the sound in the rear speakers is too loud or the microphones that provided content to the rear channels were placed too close to the stage. I say this because every once and a while it sounds like a trumpet is seated at 3 o’clock to my listening position.

Overall, not a bad recording, but it does nothing to challenge recent and classic favorites.

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