Harding Leads An Impressive Mahler Fifth

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Mahler’s Fifth is arguably the most difficult of all the symphonies to play convincingly, and it’s to Daniel Harding’s credit that he does it so well. Like his version of the Ninth, this is a performance that gets better as it goes. The opening funeral march actually offers lots of promise, being both grim and nicely alternating between sorrowful lyricism and outbursts of almost uncontrolled hysteria. The related second movement, however, while cogently shaped, suffers from a tempo for its second subject that’s just a hair too slow–something of a trend these days–and as usual the cataclysmic whack on the tam-tam that blows the movement to bits isn’t audible. I do wish conductors would pay attention to these details. They matter.

However, the scherzo benefits from Harding’s ability to create wonderfully clear textures in his string section. The solo horn plays splendidly, transitions always proceed smoothly and effectively, and the raucous coda is thrilling. From here on, it’s smooth sailing: an Adagietto that’s songful. passionate, but never sticky, and a finale that once again features amazing contrapuntal detail without ever sounding labored or fussy. I do wish the trumpets blazed forth more prominently in the closing chorale, but no one will argue with Harding’s indulgence of the zany closing bars. That one issue with the second movement aside, this is a performance that has a rightness about it that’s both uncommon and well worth experiencing.

I look forward to future releases in this cycle, and would only urge Harding to let go just a touch more at the big moments. Both the music, and the very capable audio engineers, can certainly take it even though his intelligence and idiomatic grasp of the material is never in doubt.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Levine (RCA); Stenz (ABC Classics); Mackerras (EMI)

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