Markus Stenz

Gustav Mahler: Symphonie Nr. 5

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There's a freshness and sense of freedom in this performance of Mahler's Fifth Symphony with Markus Stenz and Gürzenich-Orchester Köln that's initially quite appealing. The Cologne orchestra seems not so much to be playing the piece as improvising it, with the result that Mahler's counterpoint has rarely sounded so lyrical. Combined with the musicians' manifest virtuosity and their highly characterful playing, this performance can hold its own with the best ever recorded in terms of orchestral execution. Conductor Stenz likewise seems not so much to have memorized the work as to have internalized it, and his interpretation is highly individual in many ways. He allows the orchestra plenty of room for phrasing, but shapes the ensemble through his control of balance and tempo, and his grasp of the huge work's vast structure is sure and firm. Yet in this highly emotional work, one wishes for more: more intensity in the opening Funeral March, more vivacity in the central Scherzo, more expressivity in the Adagietto, and especially, more of a sense of release in the Rondo-Finale, but this performance delivers a bit less than just enough. While it's possible to enjoy the performance, it is not especially engaging on an emotional level. Oehms' super audio sound is transparent and enveloping, but oddly, not quite there.

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