Mahler: Symphony No. 5
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Mahler: Symphony No. 5
Mahler's Fifth was one of the pieces Leonard Bernstein owned. This interpretation is broader than the one he recorded with the New York Philharmonic in the early 1960s, but it's little changed in feeling. It is, however, far more polished and a good deal more persuasive. The recording, like all of Bernstein's later Mahler cycle, was made live; here, he and the Vienna Philharmonic give a gripping performance full of telling nuance, intensely expressive yet thoroughly controlled. It's a reading both Dionysiac and "Bachic"--as in J. S. Bach, not Bacchus--one in which the impetuous energy of the score is transmitted to the fullest degree, but not at the expense of the extraordinary (for Mahler) contrapuntal detail. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, is Bernstein's sureness of touch, his ability to realize the many little expressive gestures that no longer merely draw attention to themselves the way they used to, but add up to something miraculous. The Philharmonic players, with him all the way, contribute many wonderful touches, especially the strings. The recording, made not in Vienna but in Frankfurt's Alte Oper, is solid and has remarkable impact. While the bass is a bit diffuse and the sound stage not the clearest, the image is reasonably detailed and well balanced, the atmosphere good. --Ted Libbey
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answer to life`s dilemma..
what a great opening statement with the wonderful trumpet announcement.
of course the chicago sympony orch. with the trumpeting by their incomparable 1st.trumpetist.
this recording rates very highly as well.
In order to best appreciate Kubelik's first movement it is probably best to forget that it is a funeral march ("wie ein Konduk", Mahler wrote at the top of the movement, like a funeral procession), and imagine that it is the dogged march of exhausted infantry underdogs through muddy trenches. Kubelik's opening tempo has nothing that we associate today with "funeral" (although it may very well be true to what Mahler associated with it), it is not one of those burdened and despondent marches illustrated by Barbirolli or Bernstein in his 1987 remake live with the Vienna Philharmonic. Kubelik's march marches on swiftly, energetically almost, never letting you forget the military under the funeral, the tempo is not held back on the two "etwas gehaltener" sections (somewhat held back) at 1:05 and 2:41, and Kubelik wastes not time in reaching the fast section in 4:49 (for comparison, Barbirolli: 5:50, Bernstein 6:14). Not that the approach was proper to Kubelik. In fact, it was the customary interpretation in those early years of recording the Mahler 5th, the one of Bruno Walter in 1947 (4:41), Hermann Scherchen in 1953 (4:55), Erich Leindorf in 1963 (4:54), Vaclav Neumann in Leipzig in 1966 (4:44), of Solti (4:52) and, later, of Abravanel (4:34) and Mehta in LA in 1976 (4:43). Haitink was only slightly more spacious (5:02). How you react to it is a personal matter, we've grown accustomed to more ponderous and deliberate approaches and I prefer them, yet I think there can be a value in NOT milking the funeral, and I am reminded of Beethoven's metronome marking to the Funeral march of the Eroica: it is breathtakingly swift. There is some of that in the Walter-to-Kubelik approach. But Walter, Leinsdorf, Solti all find all these miniscule little details of expression, a clearer articulation of the orchestral triplets lending them greater force and implacability, the greater softness of the strings in the "etwas gehaltener" passages AND (especially with Walter) the more sonorous tolling double-bass pizzicati, that gives depth to their reading where Kubelik sounds, in spots, more glib. Kubelik's fast trio doesn't call attention upon itself by being neither remarkably fast (like Leinsdorf's or, most egregious, Scherchen's) nor slow (like Walter's) and it is suitably vehement, and Kubelik is commendable for not applying at 5:46 (measure 202) the big unmarked - and, frankly, unnecessary and vulgar - ritenuto first introduced by Walter and imitated by Bernstein, Leinsdorf and Solti, but relying on the natural flow and swell of the music to convey Mahler's "molto espr." Kubelik's second, "melancholy" trio, at 9:07, is loud and pressing; according to your subjectivity, you can hear it as urgent and anguished, or simply loud and pressing. Despite my efforts at understanding, I am inclined in favor of the second option. Another way of putting it is to say that I prefer approaches that play it softer and with more of an air of melancholy, if not ghostliness. Some details show Kubelik's careful attention to score, as the sharply-etched accents on the violins during the "etwas gehaltener" passage at 1:14 (measure 39) and likewise on the upward violin surge at 4:08 (measure 132), or the snarling sf stopped horn at 4:18 (measure 139). My ears aren't those of a professional so I wouldn't be too assertive on that, but they tell me that the second timpanO in E restating the opening trumpet theme just before the second trio, a minor third above the first C sharp, is tuned too flat.
Given that start, one is surprised to find Kubelik so cautious at the beginning of the second movement, rather than urgent and biting like Walter, Leinsdorf and Solti. This is the "strürmisch bewegt" (stormily agitated) not quite of Barbirolli, but of Rudolf Schwarz (and the 1958 Everest sonics lend more power to Schwarz): gushing wind maybe, but certainly no tornado, it'll slam the shutters but won't blow the rooftiles away, and even less transport Dorothy to Oz. But the celli and double-basses are crisply and powerfully articulated, and the brass are suitably vehement ("mit grösster Vehemenz", with utmost vehemence is Mahler's general marking). The slow passages do not linger, which is in keeping with Kubelik's first movement but lacks a certain brooding quality. Among the details that jump at one's ears, the little upward and accented surge of solo violin at 5:18 (measure 214), sounding here very piercing and positively nasty. I've never heard it like that and I wonder if this is really what Mahler intented, but at least it sure catches your ear.
You could criticize Kubelik for a lack of consistency - although it doesn't bother me: after a uniquely deliberate phrasing of the first horn eighth-notes (which is an original, but possible realization of Mahler's indication to play them "stark", strong or forceful), his Scherzo develops in a high spirit of jubilation and dance. The woodwind passage at 0:44 (repeated at 11:36), which is surprisingly tame and inexpressive in so many versions, is here full of sassiness, with a slight rythmic distortion even that was already present with Barbirolli, and the ensuing fp of the celli and double basses are full of bite. All the "wild" passages, with their string staccato runs in eighth-notes (the first one at 1:26, then 3:48, 10:15, 12:30) are plenty wild, with nasty brass, and the two climaxes (5:07 and 14:35) are suitably scorching. The waltzes (2:25, 6:46, 9:52) might seem to lack character, but I find that they are delivered with an affecting simplicity. The coda (16:33) is wild. There have been other and equally effective approaches to the Scherzo, but I can hardly imagine a better one.
Running 9:44, Kubelik's Adagietto adopts the middle-way approach of Barbirolli (9:50) and Solti (9:51), in between the flowing tempo of the Mengelberg-Walter tradition (between 7 and 8) and the deliberate one of Bernstein, Haitink and Karajan (between 10:30 and 12). Anything goes in the Adagietto, but there is a certain emotional understatement in Kubelik which I find in fact very welcome in that movement, although it would have been more effective with more silky strings (more a result of the transfer I think than of the instruments' intrinsic tonal quality). The finale again is very middle-of-the-road, not the urgent and high-strung race of Solti, Bernstein or Walter, not the ploddings stroll of Barbirolli, but one that unfolds very naturally. Kubelik is slightly more animated than Haitink and he has his Münich orchestra play with crispness and character, although he slows down to a more genial and easy going mood in some spots to let out the music's pastoral and sentimental lyricism (typically at 4:04, where Mahler gives no instruction to that effect, and again at 7:35 and 12:59). His concluding chorale is suitably grandiose, but because he observes more Mahler's marking to "accelerate to the end" than the composer's "Allegro molto" from which to accelerate, Kubelik's coda (14:44) fails to entirely ignite.
As I had remarked with Haitink's near contemporary version (see my review of Mahler: Symphony No. 5), there is not much to fault in Kubelik's movements 2 to 5, and 3 is even equal to the best, and 5 not far. But - as I had remarked also of Haitink - a recording of the 5th will succeed or fail on the impression left by its first movement. There is too much in it that is left aside by Kubelik to make his version really competitive with the best. In that respect Kubelik's live concert from 1981 published by Audite shows a welcome evolution in the right direction (Mahler: Symphony No. 5).
The 1971 sonics show their age. They are brilliant, but to the point that there is an agressive shrillness especially in the strings, there are spots where the brass (with Mahler, they can't be called "secondary themes" or "counter-melodies") don't come out enough, and the timps are sometimes inaudible.
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