LEBRECHT LISTENS | Semyon Bychkov And The Czech Philharmonic Offer A Virtuosic And Compelling Mahler Fifth

By Norman Lebrecht on September 23, 2022

Gustav Mahler (Photo L: Moritz Nähr / Both public domain images)
Gustav Mahler (Photo L: Moritz Nähr / Both public domain images)

Gustav Mahler: 5th Symphony (Pentatone)

★★★★★

🎧| Amazon | Apple Music

The opening of this performance is triply reassuring. The naked trumpet solo is delivered with insolent ease; the sound is distinctively Bohemian, and the phrasing has the insouciance of total self-assurance. This is the second release in a projected cycle by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and its chief conductor Semyon Bychkov that is setting the pace for Mahler on record in this decade. I found its predecessor, the 4th symphony, “indispensable”; the 5th is no less compelling.

Bychkov brings something of his St Petersburg heritage to the leading orchestra of Mahler’s homeland. Mahler paid three visits to the Russian imperial capital, where he had family. His legacy filtered down to Dmitri Shostakovich and his circle. There is a dry wit to Bychkov’s interpretation, a refusal to engage in the romantic exaggeration of Viennese and American orchestras.

Three movements change moods enigmatically from funereal to fear to frolic. The Jewish melody at the close of the scherzo is wittily underscored. The Adagietto, which Bychkov takes at Mahler’s terse timing of nine minutes, hangs on a thread between love and death. The finale promises a happy ending, only to withhold it.

The recording was made in Prague last December, at the end of the second COVID year. Apart from a preposterous sleeve-note which argues that the Adagietto “unsettles the Symphony’s presumed philosophical course,” I can find no flaw in this production. It is as gripping a Mahler Fifth as you will hear anywhere, and that burnished Czech sound will linger long in the ear. The orchestra is immeasurably more virtuosic these days than it was in its previous Mahler cycle, nearly half-century ago with Vaclav Neumann, yet its ethos in Mahler remains inimitable.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, subscribe to Slippedisc.com.

#LUDWIGVAN

Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE.

Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

daily news straight to your inbox by 6 am

company logo
Terms of Service & Privacy Policy
© 2022, Museland Media, Inc., All Rights Reserved.