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  RCO live -
  RCO 08007
  Mahler: Symphony No. 5 - Jansons
  Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 7 show all

Reviews: 5 show all

Review by Oakland September 9, 2009 (14 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Early on I made a New Years resolution: No new Mahler for 2009. Well I have broken that resolution (and most others) several times over.

There are a lot of Mahler 5th’s out there. But I got to tell you I found this Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Mahler 5th performance with Mariss Jansons conducting to be a surprisingly emotional experience, at the very first listen, but especially after multiple listens. Upon first hearing I was expecting no more than a routine leisurely listen but got much much more. The performance is probably the best I have heard in many years, not that I have heard that many and I am certainly no expert. Although the 5th Symphony does have a special meaning for me because it was with this symphony that I first "found" Mahler after numerous previous failed attempts to "understand" his music. And this is most certainly the best recording of this symphony I have heard. Performance is key, of course. And while I will leave a critique of the performance to others I will say that this performance truly satisfies me in all 5 movements, but especially the Adagietto, which I find can be the Achilles heel of otherwise fine efforts.

So, except for a brief comment on the Adagietto my comments here focus most on the recording, because with Mahler, probably much more than any composer before him, recording *does* matter to make the most intimate and harmonious connection to the composition. I realize that some downplay the importance of recording quality vs. performance, and most often with good reason. A great recording can not salvage a poor performance. But a recording of this quality of this symphony provides a sunlit clarity as to why a lesser recording could (and does) serve to compromise or obscure the performance.

Yes, this RCO Live recording is well endowed with explosive impact where called for in the score. But I have come to expect that with any new SACD recording of this symphony and other 20th century orchestral works. And while that aspect is implemented with even greater clarity than other recordings I have heard this is not what sets this recording apart in my mind. That is secondary. No, I was struck with the amazing degree of articulation and transparency of this recording. This is a technical triumph for a composition which I have found, in some passages, to have a “Bruckner” type density or thickness which in a lesser recording can (will) veil the airy subtleties and color which permeates Mahler’s 5th.

A LSO Live Barbican recording of Beethoven symphonies can have very good results. Witness the fine Haitink set. But substitute Mahler (or Sibelius) where the distinct layering of instruments/motifs/color is so critical (much more so than with most Beethoven symphonies, for example, and I think you can get a far less satisfying result. In Mahler’s 5th at times I hear up to 6 or 7 motifs or voices going on simultaneously among musicians who are scattered across the orchestra at distinctly multi-layered depths and with extraordinary clarity. A recording of the highest order is needed to pull this off with Mahler’s 5th,

So why else does the recording quality matter? Mahler’s 5th (and other Mahler too) at times *demands* his unusually large forces of musicians to play with as much volume and intensity as possibly with *no* hold back, but without loss of composure. And for sure the RCO is up to the task. But it takes a special recording to capture that without distortion and all the while preserving the dynamic contrasts and quiet passages which are every bit as important as those impressively forceful, most demanding passages. Individual Instruments/musicians or groups of instruments are never suffocated. Even at maximum tutti the most delicate woodwinds come though with sparkling clarity and to scale with respect to volume and depth placement. This RCO Live recording (which I understand was recorded with Pentatone engineers) allows the listener, even at speed, to see through the density of the music, which I learned through the transparency of this recording is really not nearly as "dense" as I have previously believed.

Getting back to the Adagietto, a conductor’s handling of that movement (compared to the other four) can be completely unpredictable for the listener. I have heard performances (live and recorded) in which the Adagietto sounded excessively long (I have a couple of recordings that last beyond 12 minutes) and dirge like. Admittedly, these tend to be older recordings. (And who knows, maybe “dirge” is the “correct” approach). Apparently, Mahler did not offer clear guidance or markings on how it should be played. Anyway, I like my Adagietto slender and pastoral leaning, sunny side up. Jansons interpretation may not be exactly sehr langsam (very slowly) but for me he gets it right.

With all that said I gotta tell you I would really like to have the Fischer/Budapest/Channel Classics/Sacks team take on the Mahler Symphony 5th. Now that would be a “shootout” I could relate to.

Robert C. Lang

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Review by hiredfox December 17, 2008 (8 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is an absolute stunner. One of the finest recordings that I have ever heard anywhere. The RCO arguably performs Mahler better than anybody and this Fifth is certainly the finest version on SACD and their best of this series. I believe the RCO recordings are made by the same team that produce Pentatone recordings, surely they are the world leaders in hi-def realism via DSD?

Don't be fooled into thinking that this is yet another Mahler symphony off the fashion-house production line.

You would need a very good reason indeed not to add this fine disc to your collection - do so whilst stocks last!

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Review by seth February 22, 2010 (6 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
As usual, I'll be the lone dissenter on this recording.

My main main problem with the performance is that throughout it Jansons is awash in a sea of strings. He pushes the string section to the front of the balance, and while the Concertgebouw's strings are quite gorgeous, this comes at the expense of the other instruments, especially the brass. This is particularly problematic in the second movement because it is propelled by the brass. It's certainly the most virulent movement in the symphony, with all the dotted quarter notes, piercing mutes, horns lifting their bells in the air, etc. The brass in this recording are just not forceful enough. I could go through the whole movement bar-by-bar, but two moments I'll nitpick about are the descending trumpets 6 bars before 19, and the horns 2 bars before 20 that get especially sold-out. And throughout the whole performance, there just wasn't enough brass.

This is more subjective, but I also found a lot of the climaxes lacking tension, such as the episode in the third movement involving the whip.

The recorded sound is very good in multi-channel. There's a realistic sense of hall ambience. Deep bass comes in especially well. The reverberant acoustics of the Concertgebouw hall do give the orchestra a muffled sound occasionally, and during some of the loudest moments instruments in the back of the hall have a hard time coming through, such as the triangle.

This is generally an exceptionally well played and recorded performance of the Mahler 5, but it leaves me wanting more and you can do a lot better.

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Works: 1  

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor