If you go out and buy the Minnesota Orchestra’s Bis recording of Mahler’s fifth symphony, rest assured that you need never buy another. It’s resoundingly well played in every department, devoid of the bravado that impairs some American performances, and discreetly shaped by the music director Osmo Vänskä, who finds organic solutions for some of the more abrupt shifts in the score.
Vänskä’s approach is coolly objective. He plays what is in the score and allows the listener to find his or her own level of emotional engagement. The Adagietto, at twelve and a half minutes, is slower than is nowadays acceptable, but it complements an interpretation that is at once committed and detached, intense and transcendentally timeless. As I said, no Mahlerian will be disappointed.
However, in the same batch of releases, along comes Mariss Jansons’ latest account of the symphony with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. I first heard Jansons conduct Mahler’s Fifth around thirty years ago and remember thinking that he understood the piece better than almost anyone alive. Since then, his understanding has deepened and his orchestras have improved.
The Bavarian opening trumpet (why doesn’t the booklet give the soloist’s name?) is matchlessly secure. The tempi are integrally contoured and the listener is led like a clinical observer through the inner map of Mahler’s mind. Jansons’ Adagietto, dry as Pinot Grigio, is eight seconds short of nine minutes. The finale literally dances off the deck, the playing supple as a gigolo. This performance ranks with Tennstedt, Barbirolli and Barshai as one of the great Mahler Fifths on record.
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