MAHLER Symphony No 5 (Jansons)
‘Mahler said his time would come – the question now, for me, is when it will go.’ There are so many recordings of the present work that even the most ardent Mahlerian may have a sneaking sympathy with that recent outburst from the venerable Spectator critic Michael Tanner. Mariss Jansons himself has regularly toured with the Fifth and it is only a decade since he last allowed his interpretation to be immortalised in Amsterdam.
While there has been no dramatic change in approach since that RCO Live release, fringe factors favour the newcomer. For some listeners the Concertgebouw reading will have been compromised by woozy sound, concluding applause and idiosyncratic packaging. In which case only the clapping is a problem here. The Bavarian ensemble, every bit as fine as its Dutch rival, is on world-beating form, but there remains a potential difficulty. The rich, well-integrated, string-cushioned sounds elicited by Jansons may not be quite what our tormented proto-modernist composer had in mind. At the start Mahler’s funeral rites are viewed from a comfortable emotional distance, anguish carefully regulated. Still, the first Trio is disruptive, unexpectedly personal in inflection and pacing. The tempo for the second movement, like that outburst in the first, may be held back a little but not even the spacious Scherzo, which Hermann Scherchen for one was wont to cut, outstays its welcome when the playing is this good. The horns (five in this movement) cover themselves in glory.
One element that feels a tad swifter than before is the Adagietto, which should please proponents of the breezy, songful line in this music. Not that Jansons goes for anything too radical: his pastel nine ish minutes come close to what we know of Mahler’s own preference on the podium. Among recent contenders, Osmo Vänskä in Minneapolis subscribes to the alternative authenticity implied by Mahler’s written injunction, Sehr langsam. He also seems determined to undercut the finale’s latent bumptiousness, whereas Jansons offers a more conventional kind of security and finesse. Neither achieves nor perhaps aspires to Leonard Bernstein’s euphoria when the second movement’s chorale returns to secure what is, for once, an explicitly optimistic end. Jansons’s less insistent manner will nonetheless delight his fans and admirers of the orchestra he has made arguably Germany’s finest.