Mahler Symphony No 5
Bernstein's tempo for the uneral march in the first movement of Mahler's Fifth Symphony has become slower in the 23 years that separate his New York CBS recording from this new one, made during a performance in Frankfurt a year ago. I think the faster tempo is nearer to Mahler's intention, but I much prefer the later interpretation as a whole. For one thing, the VPO play it much better than the NYPO of 1964, who were having a relatively bad day when the recording was made. The strings only passage at fig. 15 in the first movement, for example, is exquisitely played, so is the long horn solo in the
Best of all is Bernstein himself, here at his exciting best, giving daemonic edge to the music where it is appropriate and building the symphony inexorably to its final triumph. Thanks to a very clear and well-balanced recording, every subtlety of scoring, especially some of the lower strings' counterpoint, comes through as the conductor intended. As in the case of Sinopoli's underrated recording of this symphony (also DG), one is made aware of the daring novelty of much of the orchestration, of how advanced it must have sounded in the early years of this century. But whereas with Sinopoli this emphasis was achieved at the expense of some expressive warmth, that is far from the case with Bernstein. We get the structure, the sound and the emotion.
The Adagietto is not dragged out, and the scrupulous attention to Mahler's dynamics allows the silken sound of the Vienna strings to be heard to captivating advantage, with the harp well recorded too. It seems to me that Bernstein is strongest in Mahler when the work itself is one of the more optimistic symphonies with less temptation for him to add a few degrees more of