My first reaction was to wonder whether we had not passed saturation-point for recordings of Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Over a dozen are currently available, of which any one of those mentioned above should satisfy the needs of even an insatiable Mahlerian. All are performances on insight, executed in majestic style, and several are available on CD. Now comes Sinopoli to add to the pile. Remembering colleagues' reviews of his London performances of Mahler, I put this recording on the turntable with misgivings. But I have to report that I now gladly make room for this remarkable performance alongside my other favourites. It does not displace them, but it complements them.
Part of the art of conducting seems to me to lie in the ability to make the listener attend afresh to familiar music, to reveal new or different facets. This is what Sinopoli does here, and whatever may go on in the concert hall (I have not heard him there), in the recording studio, judging by this release, the most certainly does not miss or misjudge the spirit of the music.
Swedish Mezzo-soprano and former winner of BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, Katarina Karnéus is joined on this disc by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki to perform three of Gustav Mahler’s orchestral songs. As a composer, Gustav Mahler was absorbed by song and symphony as complementary genres deeply involved with each other. In his first symphony, Mahler included two themes from the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, originally scored for voice and piano, which he had recently composed to his own poems. It was perhaps the experience of orchestrating these themes in his symphony that a few years later inspired Mahler to create the version for voice and orchestra.
This is a reissue of Mahler performances delivered in Cologne in 1992 and 1993, and Thomas Quasthoff, just on the verge of international fame, was in phenomenal voice. The upper extension of his beautiful, expressive bass-baritone is thrilling, in perfect control. Artistically, he only grew stronger, as evidenced by his searing reading of 'Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen' under Boulez (DG), but this earlier interpretation comes close, and there's no comparison so far as vocalism is concerned. The WDR orchestra plays well under the rather prosaic leadership of the late Gary Bertini (a native Russian who emigrated to Palestine as a child in the 1930s)– both are good enough, and the recorded sound is excellent. In all, this is a shattering reading by Quasthoff that should be heard by every lover of Mahler.
In this live recording from the Royal Festival Hall the OAE shines its musical torch into the realms of some later repertoire, shedding new light on the music of Mahler. Conducted by Principal Artist Vladimir Jurowski, this album includes the Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer), written in the wake of an unhappy affair with a soprano, and the extraordinarily exciting and powerful Totenfeier, Mahler’s first foray into orchestral music, and later reworked into the opening movement of his second symphony.