Mahler himself worked with Willem Mengelberg, whose annotated score contains markings that stem from conversations with the composition. This is the source for the information about the familiar Adagietto being a love letter to the composer’s wife Alma, and other details about the piece. That stated, the association of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is borne out in various recordings during the century since the premiere of what is, perhaps, one of Mahler’s best-known symphonies.
This recording gives a fine sense of the textured sound of the Concertgebouw, with its uniformly strong sections and cohesive sound. This is readily apparent in the Scherzo, which is probably Mariss Jansons’ most successful movement in this recording. Here Jansons manages to navigate well between the shifting timbres of the score, which intersect the various sections of this multi-layered movement. The driving rhythms of the concluding sections underscore the dynamic changes which, in turn, reveal other changes in scoring. At times Jansons’s tempos are somewhat slower than some conductors choose, and this is useful in the Scherzo, where it allows the details become easily audible, particularly in the latter part of the movement. One of the pleasures of this recording is the clarity of the woodwind textures, not only in the Scherzo, but elsewhere. The figuration of the woodwinds in the second movement is effective, especially in the passages that Jansons takes at a somewhat slow tempo.
Likewise, the harp in the Adagietto helps to reinforce the chord changes in the strings and conveys a sense of a strummed aubade. Here, though, the rich textures of the lower strings are not strong enough to balance the treble sounds, which tend to dominate this movement. This is nonetheless a solid performance of this famous movement. It is never self-indulgent, but flows nicely to allow the vocal qualities of the structural model of the movement, Mahler’s Rückert setting “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekomment” (“I am lost to the world”) to guide the interpretation.
In general, Jansons offers a reading of the Fifth that lacks some of the frenetic qualities that other interpreters sometimes bring to the work. Jansons lingers at time, and while he does not fail to bring the works to satisfying conclusions, it is never at the expense of sacrificing clarity or allowing figuration to become sound effects. In this sense, the pacing offers something that lends itself to the strengths of the Concertgebouw in presenting a uniformly solid sound and allowing it to blend nicely in this reading of Mahler’s score.
This kind of approach makes it possible to appreciate the interpretation of the Rondo-Finale, which is not as driven to reach the ending, as much as it revels in the means of getting to that point. Just as the chorale at the climax of the second movement ends rings nicely in this recording, Jansons sustains that effect in the last movement. The orchestral sonorities match the melodic and motive content to good effect. This is a thoughtful interpretation of this familiar work, which bears attention for the ways in which it offers a distinctive sense of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, even with the interpretive distance implicit in the recording.
James L. Zychowicz