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( 1860 -1911)
Symphony No 5
Dallas Symphony Orchestra Andrew Litton(cond)
Recorded Live in Concert Morton H Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas, Texas.
September 1993 DDD
Dorian DOR-90193 [71.00]
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This recording of Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is from a live performance in September 1993. At the time Litton had not yet taken over the full-time conductorship of the DSO - that dated from the beginning of the 1994/95 Season. It was his first recording with the Orchestra. This lack of unfamiliarity with each other shows in a release that is something of a curate's egg and may partly reflect the absence at that stage of a Mahler performing tradition. Only today I read elsewhere a favourable review of a more recent Mahler recording from 1998 with the same forces that would point to later performances being altogether more convincing.

This is a live recording but one would not be aware of this at all. There are no tiresome nuisance noises to bother about and only with the applause is the audience heard. Remarkable editing or the paying customers must have been threatened with something terrible if they misbehaved. I wish some other concert halls had the secret. The recording itself is transparently clear, the clarity too much for the big drum that sounds over-miked on my speakers.

The reservations about the performance are mainly to do with the lack of dynamism and confidence, the tentativeness that one senses from the orchestra - the strings especially - that point to the early stages of a relationship that has not yet become established.. The result is a blandness, a lack of character. Everything is reasonable and nothing is too obviously wrong - just something lacking. The strings sacrifice weight for clarity and accuracy and there are reservations too about some of the tempi chosen. This lack of confidence is apparent from the outset in the Funeral Music. Over sweet strings fail to capture the tragedy inherent in the score and instead we have a plodding over-smooth plaintiveness without any great depth of emotion and the gear change in the movement lacks emphasis. A word of praise here for some fine solo trumpet playing - the brass sections throughout the entire work were consistently impressive. The second movement builds well but individual passages lack the right balance and emphasis. The Scherzo was allowed to drift and at the pizzicato passage almost stopped., while the Adagietto sagged part-way through. The Finale generated enough excitement to please the audience who clearly enjoyed the performance. Perhaps it was decent enough and an ageing misanthrope of a reviewer is wrong. We all know how reactions can vary at a live event. Ah, well, back to my Barbirolli Mahler 5 I think.

A pedestrian and uninspiring recording that lacks much of what a good performance of Mahler needs.


Harry Downey

See also Tony Duggan's review of this recording

Tony Duggan's comparative review of recordings of this symphony

Tony Duggan's comparative review of Mahler recordings


Harry Downey

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