Gustav Mahler was born in 1860 in Kaliste, now part of the Czech Republic, and spent the first 15 years of his life a short drive away in Jihlava. Those Bohemian roots continued to be an influence on his compositions throughout his life, alongside other diverse sources.
Although his career was largely spent elsewhere, Mahler also gave the premiere of his Symphony No 7 with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Prague in 1908. Now the orchestra has embarked on a complete cycle of Mahler’s symphonies with its chief conductor and music director, Semyon Bychkov.
This recording of the Symphony No 5 is the second in the series and a testament to the quality of an orchestra too often overlooked in international orchestral rankings. The playing is of the most cultivated kind, the strings warmly lyrical, wind and brass never strident, the overall blend rich.
All that falls in with Bychkov’s generally romantic view of the symphony. His speeds are on the slow side, though not excessively so, and it is the space he gives his players that results in such a relaxed style of playing.
There is much beautiful musicianship, especially in the popular Adagietto, which is shaped with perfect naturalness and impeccably phrased by the strings. Elsewhere, a shortage of tension and excitement rob the symphony of some of its drama. Mahlerian emotional extremes are absent here, which may rule the performance out for some, but the unforced eloquence of an orchestra in its prime is worth catching.
‘Mahler: Symphony No 5’ is released by Pentatone
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