Various Artists

Mahler: Adagios

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To commemorate the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler's birth, EMI released a box set of his complete works in 2010, and this album of Adagios is drawn partly from that collection, though a few of the historic performances here are by different conductors and orchestras. The identical cover art -- the portait of Mahler by Emil Orlik, set against a detail from a painting by Gustav Klimt -- may cause a little further confusion, but strictly speaking, this is not a highlights album from the box set, and anyone with concerns over duplicating tracks should compare them side-by-side. Others can relax and sample Mahler's symphonies by way of these slow orchestral movements, which contain much beautiful music and reveal a more intimate, lyrical side of this intensely complicated composer. Even so, this is not to suggest that this is by any means a relaxation CD, like other Adagio collections in the marketplace, for Mahler seldom maintained a calm or soothing mood for very long, and his music often rises dramatically in volume and expression. Perhaps the most level movement offered is the famous Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor, which conveys its passionate mood with nothing more than strings and a harp, and never jars with the violent gestures or heroic interruptions that are sometimes found in the other symphonic movements. To this extent, Mahler Adagios is best suited as an introduction for newcomers to his works, and listeners seeking albums for chilling-out or background music can find many other mellow compilations that serve that purpose.

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