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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5 (John Barbirolli)


Composer: Gustav Mahler
  1. Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor: I.Trauermarsch (In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt)
  2. Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor: II. Stuermisch bewegt (Mit größter Vehemenz)
  3. Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor: III. Scherzo (Kräftig, nicht zu schnell)
  4. Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor: IV. Adagietto (Sehr langsam)
  5. Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor: V. Rondo-Finale (Allegro)

New Philharmonia Orchestra
John Barbirolli, conductor
Date: 1969
Label: EMI



"... Another conductor who brings unique character to this work is Sir John Barbirolli with the New Philharmonia on EMI GROC (5669102). This has topped of the list of many recommendations for years. But it has to be said it isn't without its controversial elements which, for some, might rule it out of court altogether. The funeral march has great tragic weight with an element of national mourning not far away. However, this is a dignified grieving rather than an over-dramatised one, as it is under Wyn Morris, for example. Like with Schwarz, the jump-off point at the first Trio finds Sir John ever the expansive Mahlerian, refusing to rush and taking the opportunity to let his horns really whoop. The return of the march is superb too with real iron in the soul and even more dread to the funeral steps. The second movement opens with the cellos and basses grinding their bows into the strings superbly. Some may find Barbirolli's overall expansiveness just over the edge in this movement. If it comes off, which I believe it does, it's because he remembers Mahler's marking of "Vehement" for the stormy episodes. The punching brass at the start of the development are especially memorable and so too is the central cello lament which Barbirolli gets his players to deliver with all the eloquence you would expect from him. Listen also to the great whoops from the massed horns at the recapitulation. In fact, right the way through this movement the brass deliver all the power you could want, especially in the passage marked "Wuchtig" prior to the chorale climax which is really built up with unerring power.

Barbirolli also manages the mood switch in the third movement and here his expansive approach pays unquestioned dividends in one of the finest performances of this movement on record. This is all helped by the open quality to the sound picture with brass and woodwind balanced forward and the woodwind especially showing this was still Klemperer's orchestra. (No recording by Klemperer, of course. The old man had a very low opinion of this symphony which might have been why he allowed Barbirolli to record it.) To an even greater extent than Schwarz, Barbirolli recognises the old-world elements in this movement, the charm, the nostalgia, all deeply etched in music that he makes breathe humanity from every pore and explode into joy when the need arises.

Though he's more expansive than Schwarz in the Adagietto it's interesting to note that even Barbiroilli recognises the need to keep the tempo under some control. At under ten minutes he is certainly at the quicker end of the scale when compared with some. But his phrasing of this wonderful music is so warm and full of heart that you would have to be made of stone not to respond to it. I find his account of this movement perfectly acceptable, especially when heard in context of his performance of the last movement which is slower overall than anyone, apart from Morris. Those who think this really does need dash and virtuosity will not be able to take the movement as conducted by Sir John. But those who respond to his rather mordant wit will find that it carries all before it. At such a grand tempo, the delivery of the final pages ought to leave you with the warm glow Mahler surely intended and with a real feeling of an immense distance travelled since the opening of the work. ..."

-- Tony Duggan, MusicWeb International

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Gustav Mahler (7 July 1860 – 18 May 1911) was an Austrian late-Romantic composer, and one of the leading conductors of his generation. As a composer he acted as a bridge between the 19th century Austro-German tradition and the modernism of the early 20th century. In his lifetime his status as a conductor was established beyond question, but his own music gained wide popularity only after periods of neglect. After 1945, Mahler became one of the most frequently performed and recorded of all composers. Mahler's œuvre is relatively small. Aside from early works, most of his are very large-scale works, designed for large orchestral forces, symphonic choruses and operatic soloists.


John Barbirolli (2 December 1899 – 29 July 1970) was a British conductor and cellist. He is remembered above all as conductor of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, which he helped save from dissolution in 1943 and conducted for the rest of his life. Barbirolli was particularly associated with the music of English composers such as Elgar, Delius and Vaughan Williams. His interpretations of other late romantic composers, such as Mahler and Sibelius, as well as of earlier classical composers, including Schubert, are also still admired.


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