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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 5 (1901–02) [69.54]
Düsseldorfer Symphoniker / Ádám Fischer
rec. live, 31 March-2 April 2017, Tonhalle, Düsseldorf, Germany
CAVI-MUSIC 8553395 [69.54]

As part of its continuing series of Mahler symphonies Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, under principal Ádám Fischer, has reached volume four, with the Fifth Symphony

Such an enduring audience favourite, Mahler’s Fifth continues to maintain a firm hold in the concert repertoire with a dizzying choice available in the record catalogues. A work that can make a deep emotional impression, I still affectionately recall an Olympian performance of the Fifth that I attended in 2011 at Berlin by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Manfred Honeck. Notably that performance from the American orchestra, given on the actual day of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of the New York’s World Trade Centre, contained extra poignancy.

Under Fischer, Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, in this live performance at the Tonhalle, respond to the myriad moods of Mahler’s Fifth giving a captivating account that provides absorbing drama. From beginning to end, the Hungarian maestro communicates a judicious balance between gripping intensity and attention to detail whilst impressively managing the overall structure of the score. Commencing with a stunning trumpet solo in the opening of the impeccably paced Trauermarsch (Funeral March), a sense of nightmarish expression with the spectacular orchestral sound sends a shiver down the spine. Almost immediately, one becomes conscious of the exceptional clarity of the brass with the strings radiating a glorious bloom. Such a magnificent creation, in the changing character of the second movement who could fail to be impressed by the playing, which swells gloriously from uplifting pastoral scenes into determined, anguished climaxes. Challenging and overtly pictorial, the Scherzo feels like squally, open-air music, a refreshing walk through verdant Alpine vistas with Fischer communicating such stunning sights and sounds, including folk dance melodies, along the route, with absorbing clarity. One could almost be reading intimate pages from Mahler’s holiday diary. Especially striking are the wonderful horn playing, especially from the principal in his extended part and the distinctive rich, firm cello tone. Throughout this movement, which can sound disorganised and even messy in the wrong hands, Fischer expertly manages the dynamics and significantly underlines the fluctuating moods of the writing. With conviction at an absolute zenith Fischer directs a climax that feels overwhelming in terms of exhilaration, volume and force. Mahler’s statement of his deep love for his wife Alma, the justly famous Adagietto, is exquisitely played by the Düsseldorf players with a level of restrained passion that could break the stoniest of hearts. Compared to the vast majority of accounts of the Fifth in my collection, Fischer taking 10'.05", adopts a relatively quick tempo to purposely avoid any sense of dragging and wallowing which he feels is inappropriate to Mahler’s intention; an approach which works here splendidly. However, I notice that Mariss Jansons with Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks (2016) on BR-Klassik and Simon Rattle with Berliner Philharmoniker (2002) on EMI are even swifter at 8'.52" and 9'.32" respectively. Imbued with a swirling, near dizzying quality and varying weight the Rondo-Finale (Allegro) under the focused Fischer, generates playing of considerable exhilaration. Buoyancy and vitality are Fischer’s watchwords which is an attitude that undoubtably produces a sense of liberation. In the rumbustious final pages, the reserves of sheer energy that Fischer requires from his receptive Symphoniker are potently produced.

Recorded in conjunction with Deutschlandfunk during live performances at Tonhalle, Düsseldorf the sound quality has good clarity revealing significant detail although I ideally require slightly more depth in a recording. In the booklet Ádám Fischer’s insightful thoughts on the Fifth Symphony are expressed in an interview format in addition to an informative and readable essay by Jens Schubbe.

Regarding competing recordings of the Fifth I will continue to reach for my treasured live 1981 Herkulessaal, Munich account from Rafael Kubelik and Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks on Audite. With playing of elevated quality from Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks under Mariss Jansons its captivating live 2016 Philharmonie, Munich account is also one of the finest in the catalogue. However in this exceptional Mahler symphony Düsseldorfer Symphoniker under Ádám Fischer is in outstanding form. This perceptive new account gives the finest recordings I know a run for their money and I am certain to play it often.

Michael Cookson



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