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Symphony No. 5

Maazel; Vienna Philharmonic , Mahler Gustav Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part One: I. Traurmarsch. In Gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie Ein Kondukt
2. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part One: I. Plotzlich Schneller. Leidenschaftlich. Wild
3. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part One: I. Tempo I
4. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part One: II. Sturmisch Bewegt. Mit Grosster Vehemenz
5. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part One: II. Langsam Aber Immer
6. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part One: II. Nicht Eilen
7. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Two: III. Scherzo. Kraftig, Nicht Zu Schnell
8. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Two: III. Etwas Ruhiger
9. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Two: III. Molto Moderato
10. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Two: III. A Tempo I
11. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Two: III. Tempo I (Subito)
12. IV. Adagietto. Sehr Langsam
13. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Three: V. Rondo - Finale. Allegro
14. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Three: V. Nicht Eilen. A Tempo
15. Symphony No.5 In C Sharp Minor: Part Three: V. Grazioso

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5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal and Underrated Mahler Recording! Aug. 17 2003
Format:Audio CD
This is one of the best Mahler 5 recordings I have heard. The Vienna Philharmonic sounds absolutely fabulous. Maazel's has recorded the whole Mahler cycle with Vienna. The performance of Mahler 4 has become very well known. The Mahler 5 seems to be not as popular. This might be because Bernstein also recorded a great live version with Vienna as well. Maazel's interpretation of the piece is very balanced and clear. Maazel brings to me what is a slightly more clear approach to this music, but still with great climaxes. I really like the opening movement and the third movement scherzo. The balance between all the sections is really amazing. You can hear every entrance and every voice. This is a triumph of the players and to the Sony recording engineers. I would highly recommend this Mahler recording to anyone.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
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5.0 out of 5 stars Case reopened - Maazel vs rest of the (critics') world re: alledged abuse of Mahler's 5th. Verdict: miscarriage of justice Jan. 8 2012
By Discophage - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
???? Why did every critic I recall reading warn against Maazel's Mahler cycle from the early 1980s, with this 5th no better than the rest? Based on (my recollection of) those reviews, I had always avoided Maazel's Mahler. But now the box is sold so cheap that it is hard to resist it (Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1-10 (Limited Edition)), and I thought I'd have an easy time reviewing it and dismissing it. I started with this Symphony, since I am actively journeying along the 5th these days. Well... thinking that my memory might be wrong, that maybe the critics' dismissal of Maazel was the general view of the cycle as a whole but that the 5th provided one positive exception, I even checked back on the reviews in Fanfare (by Ben Pernick in March 1984 for the original LP release and Peter J. Rabinowitz in September 1987 for the first CD reissue), the Gramophone (Richard Osborne January 84 and Michael Kennedy October 87) and the French Diapason (Henry-Louis de la Grange December 83). And, no, my recollections were spot on. They go from lukewarm at best in the Gramophone (Osborne: "Maazel sets consistently sensible tempos, tempos which suit the music and which give the players time to breathe... I don't think the orchestra has much in reserve to turn a play-through into a major musical experience... Nor in the wellpaced funeral march is there much sense of the VPO digging deep into the music...) to scathing in Diapason ("caricature... Even when this slow pacing doesn't entirely disfigure the text, other shortcomings reveal, in Maazel, a lack of profound affinity with the Mahler style... over-sollicitation of the text by very idiosyncratic intentions, but that are too often alien to it, the exaggeration of most tempos and dynamic nuances...). Because Amazon has very sensible length limitations for these reviews, which they let me break but only to an extent, I can't reproduce the reviews in toto but I've sent them to the comments section.

So, I think nobody can take me to task for trying to brush under the carpet the case against Maazel's Mahler 5th, and I can be excused for being, all these years, under the impression that it was a recording to be avoided at all cost. Now, hark, hark, fans of Mahler: this is a great 5th.

First, there is the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic. Richard Obsorne really makes me laugh with his comment that "over the years his music has been more ardently and idiomatically played by the leading orchestras of Amsterdam, London, New York, Chicago and Berlin than by the VPO". You bet! And no wonder, in the absence of any contender: as hard as it is to belive, this was the FIRST TIME the Vienna Philharmonic, Mahler's own orchestra, recorded the 5th symphony (I am counting out the film of Bernstein in 1972, Mahler - Symphonies 4, 5, 6 / Leonard Bernstein, Edith Mathis, Wiener Philharmoniker (2005), because this never came out in audio-only form, and the old Scherchen recording from 1953 with the so-called Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Mahler: Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor, although I understand that the members of the Philharmonic come from the very populous Opera Orchestra - but evidently Scherchen's 1953 orchestra's tone has nothing to do with Maazel's). Whether an effect only of the sonic pickup or of the actual making and timbre of the instruments and especially the brass, I don't know, but the sound is dark, burnished, not brilliant and glaring as with Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago or even Berlin Phil under Karajan. And this souds like the genuine Mahler sound, and makes me understand what secretely nagged and bothered me when listening to all these other recordings, whatever my enthusiasm for the interpretations: too much brilliance and glare, not enough chiarroscuro.

But a recording isn't just about the sound of the orchestra: it is about the interpretation. Sure, there are some touches and choices in Maazel's reading that can be taken exception with. He takes the opening funeral march at a very held-back and funeral indeed pace, and some (but not all) have found fault with it (the one lukewarm reviewer under this entry, Santa Fe Listener, has summarized it well: "The first movement is rhythmically slack, generally slow, and lacking in intensity"). But those critics' or reviewer's negative reaction is obviously not just a matter of tempo, especially for those, like Osborne or Rabinowitz, who take as their interpretive yardsticks Barbirolli (and in another review Santa Fe Listener too has expressed his great love for that version, Mahler: Symphony No. 5 / New Philharmonia / Sir John Barbirolli (EMI)), Inbal (Mahler: Symphony No .5) or Bernstein's 1987 remake with the same Vienna Philharmonic (Mahler: Symphony No. 5). Here are their respective timings, section by section, in the first movement

Maazel: First funeral march 5:55 / Fast trio 1:40 / Second funeral march 3:14 / Second trio 3:07
Barbirolli: First funeral march 5:50 / Fast trio 1:46 / Second funeral march 3:17 / Second trio 2:49
Inbal: First funeral march 5:49 / Fast trio 1:52 / Second funeral march 3:00 / Second trio 2:46
Bernstein: First funeral march 6:14 / Fast trio 1:47 / Second funeral march 3:18 / Second trio 3:10

What is striking here is how close Maazel is to these other versions in one or the other section: to Barbirolli in both funeral marches and to Inbal in the first, to Bernstein from the second trio to the end. In fact, although the timings do not show it, Maazel is also extremely close to Barbirolli in the second trio as well: remarkably, they both take 1:25 (Barbirolli)/1:24 (Maazel) from the start of the second trio to reach the big "klagend" climax, and reach it at the same timing: 12:15 (B) and 12:16 (M). It is only because Maazel slows down much more than Barbirolli in the recessed conclusion that he reaches the end 20 seconds after the English conductor. His fast trio is marginally faster than the others, although, when you listen in detail, it has more to do with the way he shapes his rutato than with his basic tempo, which is only very marginally faster than Barbirolli's, and in absolute not fast, certainly not compared to Leinsdorf's (Symphony 5) or Karajan's (Mahler: Symphony No. 5 / Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker) or Levine's (Mahler: Symphony No. 5). So it can't be the very deliberate and funeral tempo that leads some listeners to reject Maazel, or they wouldn't endorse so enthusiastically the even slower Bernstein, as do Kennedy and Rabinowitz (and I am referring here to their respective reviews of Bernstein's 5th, in The Gramophone August 1988 and Fanfare January 1989). At least De La Grange (in Diapason November 1988) and Santa Fe Listener are consistent in their dismissal of Bernstein - but De La Grange has but praise for Bernstein's other movements.

Of course, the impression elicited by an interpretation isn't just a matter of tempo. Because Barbirolli and Maazel can provoke such opposite reactions despite the fact that their various tempos in the first movement are nearly the same, you need to compare more carefully. I first thought the diversity of reactions came from the fact that Maazel underlined more the regular, tolling rhythm of the march (cello and double-bass pizzicati underpinned by various brass and winds), consequently giving a more heavily plodding impression. But then, jumping from one to the other, sometimes in spans of 10 or 15 seconds so that the aural memory wouldn't have time to dissipate, what was striking becomes jawdropping, e.g. how close, not only in tempo, but even in phrasing and instrumental balances, the two readings are. Makes you think reallly that Maazel mut have built his conception of the first movement not just from reading the score, but also listening a lot to the recording of his illustrious predecessor. The only difference is that the sonics afford Maazel more presence. In all that funeral march Maazel is Barbirolli with an added presence, so I can only conclude that the Maazel bashers/Barbirolli admirers like Barbirolli as they like their mother-in-law: not too present.

Anyway, the potential buyer needs to be aware that Maazel's march tempo and pacing in the first movement might not be for all tastes, because it is so deliberate, burdened and funeral. I personally like the funeral in Mahler - it meets a certain definition of what it means to "dig deep into the music" -, but one less tolerant than I am to a diversity of approaches may prefer a more flowing and "military" pace in the manner of Walter in 1947 (first section taken in 4:41), Mehta in 1976 (4:42), Kubelik in 1971 (4:49), Solti in 1970 (4:52) or Leinsdorf in 1963 (4:54), or a more middle-of-the-road one like Bernstein's in 1963 (5:09), Schwarz' in 1958 (5:18), Levine in 1977 (5:21) or Karajan in 1973 (5:25) - more product links in the comments section. But said potential buyer also must know that those who reject Maazel but laud Barbirolli and/or Bernstein seem to have both a problem of hearing, and of coherence.

Or maybe it is what has been called the "idiosyncrasies" that you find here in there in Maazel's first movement, the "quirky phrasing that manages to irritate without being completely wrong" (Santa Fe Listener), that the Maazel bashers reject, the "copious portamento and rubato" sigalled by Pernick or, "the rubatos and ralentendos" denounced by De La Grange. At 1:50, on the one bar of surge and two bars of descent of the cellos notated by Mahler "piangendo" (weeping), Maazel does a big ritenuto before resuming the marching rhythm. At the end of the fast section (track 2, 1:35), upon the return of the trumpet's "military" triplets where Mahler writes "progressively calmer", Maazel slows down marginally more brutally than what one is accustomed to, and at 2:00, on the big tutti, he slows down again, which is a few bars after Mahler has written "return imperceptibly to Tempo I". Not that this slowing down is very conspicuously out-of-line with whatever norm there might be, I'm just trying to guess what might have ruffled listeners and critics. The ensuing orchestral triplets are slow rather than tight: to me it conveys a a great sense of weight and implacable fate, but who knows, maybe others felt that this belonged to "the "quirky phrasing that manages to irritate without being completely wrong" or "the over-sollicitation of the text by very idiosyncratic intentions, but that are too often alien to it". Is the return of the gloomy theme now played by woodwinds track 3 at 0:19 too funeral and ponderous? Mahler writes, here: "schwer", heavy. Anyway, those who would want to take Maazel to task here but consider themselves admirers of Barbirolli and/or Bernstein need to listen again at the latter: it is respectively at 8:20 and 8:52. Significantly, from that section to the beginning of the second, "melancholy" trio (rehearsal figure 12 to 15) takes 2:29 with Maazel, 2:28 with Barbirolli and 2:30 with Bernstein. For those without a score, I'd like to point out also that when Maazel might seem again quite ponderous, at the movement's very end, on the cello and double-bass descending phrase track 3 at 5:00, it is because he is realizing, again, Mahler's instruction to be "schwer".

Let me add that I like very much Maazel's ritenuto mentioned above at the "piangendo". Just a matter of personal taste? Maybe not. Nobody seems to have noticed, but, far from a quirky or arbitrary phrasing, Maazel is doing here exactly what Mahler instructs: he has his celli weep. Nobody had done that before. In fact, in all the previous versions I have heard (and, no kidding, I've heard most of them), at that passage I've always wondered: when is someone here going not just to play the notes and accents written by Mahler, but really express their meaning? Maazel bashers, listen again, with that in mind, and then we can talk about "the over-sollicitation of the text by very idiosyncratic intentions, but that are too often alien to it".

Oh: and while I've duly indicated the few rubati exercised by Maazel here - far from "copious" (Pernick); in fact there is only the one on "piangendo" that is really conspicuous - I also have no idea what "copious portamento" Pernick heard on that recording. It must have been the batteries of his hearing aid weakening.

It would be pointless to go on with all those particularities of phrasing where Maazel puts his personal stamp, trying to guess if this is what the bashers consider exceptionable, idiosyncratic or quirky. Let me just remark that, yes, this is NOT an anonymous, under-characterized reading. You can hear the personal stamp of the interpreter. And let me wonder: why would interpretive personality be hailed when it is Bernstein, and scorned when it is Maazel? If you want an anonymous, bland, all-purpose-serving Mahler 5th, there's more than a handful on the market: among those recorded before Maazel's, Neumann, Haitink, Kubelik, Abravanel are those I've heard (and from what I've read Herbig is probably in that league), and if you want digital sonics, I haven't heard them but, from what I've read, Dohnanyi, Saraste, De Waart, Litton, Oramo, Zinman should fill your needs. I listen to different Mahler 5th for great interpretive personalities. Maazel's first movement is filled with many beauties, that the bashers, so prompt to zero in on ritenutos that they obviously have misunderstood (how ironic - or infuriating - to be condemned for doing precisely what the composer instructs, in the name of respect of what the composer instructs!), seem to have been deaf to: they are too numerous to be all mentioned, from the perfectly phrased opening trumpet fanfare, the powerful ensuing tutti, the implacable orchestral triplets in the introduction to the veritably ominous solo timpani announcing the second trio ("lack of urgency", Ben Pernick? It's the point, st...d!), the bitingly accented accompanying string figures at the beginning of that trio (track 3 2:57), the devastating climax at 4:12 (at least Pernick heard that). And, for all his "copious" rubato (re Pernick again), praise Maazel for NOT applying the standard, Bruno Walter-derived and very vulgar slowdown at 0:59 track 2 (measure 202 and after, where Mahler only writes "molto espr." under the violins).

In keeping with his first, Maazel's second movement belongs, like Barbirolli's or Bernstein's, to the class of readings that favor weight, mass and power over drive and bite (like Walter, Leinsdorf or Solti). In that family, Maazel is marginally less thrusting than Bernstein (and his sonic pickup slightly more distant), but markedly more than Barbirolli, who keeps - and that's part of his unique and inimitable character - traces of heavy-footed plodding. But Maazel's celli and double-bass attacks are much better focused sonically than Bernstein's. Sure, if your yardstick is the breathless race of Solti's high-octane formula 1, Maazel's opening will give the impression of being "neither agitated nor vehement". I myself hear plenty of vehemence and, more important still, eloquence in that mass and power. When Ben Pernick wrote that "lack of warmth is all too appparent in the second theme" of that second movement, I think he was referring to the first slow section, track 4 at 1:26, and to the fact that Maazel maintains a sense of urgency, with bitingly accented woodwinds, where Bernstein and Barbirolli contrast their tempo much more. But Pernick must not have listened as far as 2:42, on the surge of violins notated by Mahler "large bowing - big tone, G string". If you don't hear "warmth" there, your hearing-aid needs a replacement (and we know, from his hearing "copious portamento", that Pernick's did). To be entirely honest, it is true that Maazel's tempo here can be taken exception with, not in itself because it is "urgent" rather than slow, but because it fails to establish the tempo relationship with his held-back "etwas gehaltener" pacing in the first movement, of which this is a reminiscence; Barbirolli and Bernstein are here more coherent. But this remark needs to be moderated by the consideration that just about every version, even those of Barbirolli and Bernstein, have such minor inconsistencies; Solti here is inconsistent as well, but because he takes it much slower than in the first movement - and would the critics be consistent in their denunciation of them!. Also, Maazel's way here has the merit of maintaining more of a unity of feeling with the violent and vehement mood that informs the movement. Interpreting is not a computer logarithm, it is balancing various, and sometimes contradictory considerations. I like Maazel's urgency here.

A very beautiful moment in Maazel's second movement is the magnificent, brooding cello line that starts the second slow section, at 4:20 (that's the passage Michael Kennedy refers to, page 70 of the score, to laud the perfect intonation and phrasing of the cellos), an upward surge B-flat to G-flat, followed by a semi-tone down to F: because he takes it at a very spacious tempo, and because of the soft and silky tone of the Vienna cellos, Maazel makes it sound, strikingly, like the beginning of Wagner's Tristan prelude. I've heard Mahler's symphony countless times, but this is the first time I hear that these are indeed exactly the same intervals, just a semi-tone lower. I've checked with Barbirolli (4:45): you don't hear the similitude, and with Bernstein (4:28): you hear it only if you know it's there. With Maazel, I longed for Wagner's resolution on the next descending semi-tone, and was slightly startled and frustrated that it didn't come. Is Mahler's choice of those intervals pure coincidence, really, and is Maazel's highlighting of the similitude one of La Grange's "over-sollicitation of the text by very idiosyncratic intentions" - or isn't it, rather, revelatory of a salutation that Mahler secretly but very intentionally put in his score?

The big and spacious "wuchtig" surge track 6 at 0:44 (that's 11:03 into the movement) is awesome. What "loss of titanic force", Michael Kennedy? In a very similar approach, Karajan's, at 11:13, is also great, Bernstein's, at 11:07, is even better, but Barbirolli's, at 11:25, sounds comparatively "small". To oppose, as Osborne does, Maazel and Barbirolli in the chorale at the end of II (Maazel track 6 at 1:48, Barbirolli 12:12) is another one of those glaring absurdities. Again, jumping from one to the other makes it jawdropping how similar they are (and so is Karajan's shaping of the same passage), with an added presence for Maazel. Bernstein here (at 11:57) is marginally more pressing. The final and wild outburst track 6 at 3:10 before the recessed coda is devastatingly powerful, not quite as much as Karajan's but markedly more than Barbirolli's, and with no trace of the ploddingness that Barbirolli and Bernstein lend to it (it is marked "pesante", but then there is pesante and there is plodding).

Among the felicitous things in the Scherzo, I'll first point out the sonics, that let you clearly hear the various contrapuntal strands of the string writing and the rest: it's a joy. There's also Maazel's slowing down a little at Mahler's "nicht eilen" (do not hurry), track 7 at 1:08. Another one of those "idiosyncracies", arbitrary over-sollicitation of the text or quirky phrasings? When I heard it, I thought: "finally!". Finally, after 35 years of recordings of Mahler's 5th, a conductor does something of that indication. Sure, you can consider (and obviously more than 20 conductors before Maazel have done so) that "do not hurry" means simply not to go faster, rather than go slightly slower. Evidently, they didn't look far enough, or they would have seen that a few bars later the indication returns on the same woodwind motive (2:01, measure 108), but is then followed, after a few bars, by the indication "flowing again" (measure 120). So evidently Mahler meant his "nicht eilen" as an indication to slow down a little, and it has left me ever puzzled why nobody seemed to want to observe it (and nobody "flows again" either, since nobody has slowed down before). Thanks Maazel for being the first in 35 years of recording for doing exactly what Mahler instructs. And it is not just a matter of being litteral for the sake of being litteral: it adds much character too. So if you want to object to Maazel's rubato, do it not on account of his slowing down which is perfectly true to score, but rather of his "flowing again" a few bars before Mahler says to do so. In fact, one recurring characteristic of Maazel's interpretation of this movement is that he tends to anticipate Mahler's changes of gears and make them progressive, over a few bars, rather than sudden as indicated. Another example is provided track 7 at 2:15, where Maazel slows down to Mahler's "ruhig" (calm) five bars before indicated rather than, like everybody else, applying the new tempo without transition at 2:21. Again track 9 at 0:43, where he now accelerates to Mahler's "more flowing, but still very measured" as soon as the oboe and horn dialogue, seven bars before Mahler's indication. Funny that La Grange should speak of "the fragmentation of the discourse in too strongly individualized episodes", because this is exactly the opposite; it is creating transitions where Mahler fragments the discourse in individualized episodes (to paraphrase La Grange). Although this is not an important issue, it is one where one could criticize Maazel's interpretive options. But I don't think that this is what any of his critics had in mind.

Overall, in terms of tempo choices, Maazel's Scherzo is, in keeping with the first two movements, a spacious one - but less than Inbal's or Bernstein's, and only slightly more than Barbirolli's. I wonder how Michael Kennedy could have heard "five individual movements instead of a five-movement symphony": Maazel's coherence in his pacing (in the Adagietto and Finale as well) makes it exactly the opposite! Very typical is his phrasing of the first waltz at 2:34: taking the section in 1:03, he is slow when compared to the usual norm of the previous versions (from Walter's 0:44 to Mehta's 0:56 in 1976 - with Bernstein in 1963 and Karajan ten years later providing exceptions at 1:00), but not so when compared to the new standard established in the 1980s (Sinopoli 1:03, Inbal and Bernstein 1:08). Those who'd feel tempted to think that Maazel's phrasings fuss a little too much over this and the next waltz passages are invited to listen to Bernstein in Vienna again; they'll probably enjoy Maazel's comparative simplicity of delivery. His strings are suitably raging and his timpani and brass sonorous on the "wild" passages (track 8 1:36, track 9 3:18), but I've heard more scorching climaxes than his first one, track 8 at 2:58. On the other hand his clapping boards track 9 at 3:43 are the most potent I've heard (I'd also wondered until then why they sounded always so relatively tame), and in general there is no lack of fury in those "wild" passages. The movement ends with another one of those idiosyncratic touches: Maazel enters the coda, track 11 at 1:33, with that rhythmical beat of timpani alone, at a very (and unprecedented) slow tempo, almost ground to a halt, barely accelerating with the entrance of the strings (1:38), only to suddenly ignite the rocket's propellors at the "più mosso - sehr wild" (1:43). But then, he doesn't perceptibly change anything at Mahler's ensuing "pressing", "even brisker" and "very pressing until the end". Ultimately his coda goes more for power than for breathless speed. It is certainly idiosyncratic and exceptionable, but in the context of an interpretation that offers so many riches, I take it as the individual touch of a big intepretive personality, and I don't see why these should be less welcome when they come from Maazel than when they come from Bernstein. Because of its combination of spaciousness, superb sonics and a "wild" that never becomes hectic or relentless as it can be with Solti, this is not only one of the best, but one of the most accessible Scherzos on records.

The famous Adagietto. Maazel's runs at 10:31. That is far away from the Mengelberg-Walter (and, arguably, Mahler) tradition, which took it anywhere between 7 and 8 minutes and saw it as a tender and passionate declaration of love to Alma rather than a "Death in Venice" meditation on the passing of things. In the early years of the recordings of Mahler's Fifth - from Bruno Walter to the mid 1970s - there was a more expansive approach, represented by Solti and Barbirolli, which took it between 9 and 10 minutes. In 1963, Bernstein was the odd-conductor out in "inventing" the "slow" approach, at 11:00, and the record was bettered ten years later by Karajan (11:52) and in 1977 by Levine (12:02) (some live versions from those early years, but published only later, took it as slow or even slower, the most egregious being Hermann Scherchen in Philadelphia in 1964, still today the slowest ever, at 15:10). 10 and over has become one of the norms today, although there is a tendency also to return to Mahler's original and "fast" conception. So Maazel is very "middle-of-the-road" here - and was even in 1982. When you look even more in detail, his shaping of tempo is in fact very to extremely close to Karajan's, Boulez', Bernstein's (both versions). Particularly worth of notice is that, like them, he interrupts the music passionate surge initiated at 3:59 by Mahler's "fliessender" (more flowing), soon followed by "etwas drängend" (somewhat pressing), far earlier than Mahler indicates to do so, at 4:32 and measure 46, rather than measure 67. That's what turns a 9 minute Adagietto into one over 10 minutes.

If De La Grange had pointed the same "intolerable expressive exaggerations" in his reviews of Karajan, Boulez and Bernstein, I'd know what he was talking about, but since he doesn't, I don't. Maybe he had in mind the softness and tenderness of the Vienna strings, that's the only "expressive exaggeration" I hear, if you really want to call it that. Here I concur entirely with Santa Fe Listener's description: "here Maazel's phrasing is sensitive and yearning, with the Vienna strings at their most delicate and haunting". Spot on.

Likewise, Maazel's tempo choices in the finale are those of Haitink, Kubelik, Karajan, Sinopoli and Bernstein-Vienna, moderate and easy-going, stressing the music's geniality rather than its unbridled and breathless joy, a friendly outskirt to the Vienna countryside, which doesn't preclude moments of build-up to peans of triumphant jubilation. Those wishing again to oppose the "great" Barbirolli to Maazel's "lack of ardour and affirmative eloquence" are insistently invited to jump from Maazel's jubilant track 14 at 2:05 (that's 10:19 into the movement) to Barbirolli's uniquely plodding 11:40, and then, for the final chorale, from Maazel's track 15 at 1:51 (13:43) to Barbirolli's 15:44. Not that Barbirolli's plodding doesn't have a special and enjoyable character of its own, and his build-ups are suitably grandiose. But Maazel, "lack of ardour and affirmative eloquence"? Now please, enough with the gratuitous slander. Honesty compels to say that one thing has ME raising my eyebrows: Maazel takes the horn motive in the first bar of the main Allegro Giocoso, at 0:44, very slow, in the same tempo as the last three bars of the previous introduction (same theme played by oboe, "riten."), and only on the next bar jumps to his main and about double tempo. I suppose the point it to make it sound exactly like the same theme's restatement at 2:51, when Mahler writes it in double value and over two bars. But if Mahler had wanted it to sound exactly the same rather than twice as slow, why didn't he write it the same? If he wrote it twice as slow, presumably that's how he wanted it to sound? Anyway, past that one-bar glitch, special joy is provided by the blablative woodwinds track 15 at 0:41, and the sonorous trombones crescendo-decrescendo at 1:07, not heard since Scherchen.

So then: Maazel vs the critics, case reopened. Examination of the allegations: "copious portamento"? False accusation, the portamento, whenever even Mahler indicates it, remains absolutely discreet. "Copious" rubato? False accusation: the rubato is all but "copious". "Tempo too slow from the start"? False allegation: not if you take Barbirolli or Inbal as your yardsticks, and even less if you are a fan of Bernstein. "Rubatos and ralentedos disfiguring the text, over-sollicitation of the text by very idiosyncratic intentions"? False allegation: the (very few) more conspicuous rubatos are in fact an attempt to realize - and for the first time - the text and composer's intentions; if the too casual listener is shocked or "irritated", it is not because Maazel is out of line with text and intentions, it is because everybody before him was. "Absence of a logical and coherent conception of the whole", "five individual movements instead of a five-movement symphony"? False allegations: Maazel's conception throughout and approach of tempos is extremely coherent, going for spaciousness and power rather than urgency and drive, in the Barbirolli to Bernstein-Vienna tradition rather than the Walter to Solti and Mehta style.

Verdict. A great version, spacious and powerful, with a strong personal stamp from the intepreter, the unique sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, and some uniquely revelatory details of interpretation.

***************************************************************************

Critics. Now that injustice is repaired and the Maazel case closed, it's time to open THEIR case. "Critics vs Mahler: alledged incompetence, carelessness, mis-listening, mis-hearing and misguiding". But for THAT review, go to the comments section.

And to think that because of these a***s, it took me almost 30 years to come around to hearing Maazel's 5th. But critics go, and the great thing about recordings is that they remain, for you to hear with your own ears.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful July 11 2008
By David Saemann - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I think this is a beautiful and profound Mahler 5. Some of Mazzel's tempos are slow, even very slow. But the orchestral phrasing is always coherent and the playing never lacks for conviction. I find that this symphony is quite a different work in Maazel's hands than in many other conductors', notably Sinopoli and Bernstein. Maazel's performance is highly meditative. There is never the mad rush forward with orchestral dazzle that you hear elsewhere. Maazel's mastery of detail is consummate. He is known to be a superb baton technician, and you really can hear that mastery pay off on this disc. The orchestral balances are true and thrilling, and nothing ever drags. I must comment on the superb early digital sound. The true orchestral dynamics are captured with a faithfulness that is rare even nowadays. The tone colors are true, and the balance is superb. You might consider buying a more mainstream Mahler 5 if this is to be your first experience of the work, but Maazel's is definitely one you will want to hear repeatedly.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal and Underrated Mahler Recording! Aug. 17 2003
By Noah Lambert - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is one of the best Mahler 5 recordings I have heard. The Vienna Philharmonic sounds absolutely fabulous. Maazel's has recorded the whole Mahler cycle with Vienna. The performance of Mahler 4 has become very well known. The Mahler 5 seems to be not as popular. This might be because Bernstein also recorded a great live version with Vienna as well. Maazel's interpretation of the piece is very balanced and clear. Maazel brings to me what is a slightly more clear approach to this music, but still with great climaxes. I really like the opening movement and the third movement scherzo. The balance between all the sections is really amazing. You can hear every entrance and every voice. This is a triumph of the players and to the Sony recording engineers. I would highly recommend this Mahler recording to anyone.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maazel avoids risk-taking and thrills, making disappointment despite the orchestra Jan. 11 2013
By Andrew R. Barnard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
With an abundance of Mahler Fifths in the catalog, a reading from a front rank Mahler orchestra doesn't necessarily scream for attention. The Vienna Philharmonic is one of our finest Mahler orchestras, but Lorin Maazel needs to immerse himself in the music in order to make this disc special. And while Vienna plays impeccably (surprise, surprise), I don't find much insight at all from Maazel. His conducting lacks imagination and the symphony sounds tamed. The assaults of reckless energy are glossed over, reducing most of the emotional impact. How did he convince Vienna to play with such avert coldness? I found the 2nd movement particularly pale; it's virtually impossible to conduct the opening bars without sending the listener into frenzy, but Maazel almost succeeds. The missing passion is so obvious it must be intentional. But I'll have to agree with the previous reviewer who found the 4th movement the best. Is that because it's the only movement where abandonment isn't prerequisite?

What is odd is that Maazel masters the intricacies in the score quite well. Everything is well voiced, better than many of my favorites, actually. But when it's done with calloused feelings, why get excited?

I love virtuoso Mahler, but this one can be missed, falling short of Abbado, Rattle, and Jansons by a long mile.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing. Sept. 3 2010
By Colloredo von Salzburg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I'm not a fan of Maazel`s Mahler symphony cycle. I think on this early
approach with the Vienna Philharmonic as weird and unadequately bizarre.
However, this kind of approach makes many points of interest in this 5th.
Although i would not place this recording among the greatests ever, it has
for sure much to say. First of all, a very slow tempi that let focus in
many details that are not perceivable in other recordings. Some key
passages are treated with astringent harmonies that put more drama and
chaos and treatment of rubato is a particular label from this recording.
This kind of sound and approach is quite different from every other one
version available and it could only recalls Mitropoulos. In conclusion,
this weird and bizarre reading works good in this symphony and so make
a really interesting musical moment to regard. Good for Maazel's fans and
for real Mahler connoisseurs.
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