Hermann Scherchen

Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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Hermann Scherchen's 1952 recording with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor was originally released by Westminster in 1953. This reissue may be regarded as an important historical document, not least because of the relative scarcity of Mahler recordings before the big revival of the 1960s and '70s, but also because of Scherchen's connection with the music of Mahler by way of the Second Viennese School. This recording gives us a reading of the symphony that is nearly expressionistic with its stringent lines, brittle timbres, restless tempos, and frequent hysterical outbursts, all of which appear to posit Mahler as a forerunner of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, rather than as an heir of the Romantic tradition. This nervous, high-strung reading of the Symphony No. 5 is a far cry from the lush and languorous versions that are familiar today, and Scherchen's edginess and volatility make this work seem, in places, not too distant from Pierrot Lunaire or Wozzeck. Fortunately for listeners who are curious to hear how this performance compares with later interpretations, the sound quality is amazingly good: slightly compressed, perhaps a little murky in spots, and not always strong in the upper range, but free of surface hiss and scratches, and remarkably clear, full, and vibrant for a mono recording of its time. While this recording is not recommended as the best introduction to this symphony, anyone who knows it well can find much to appreciate here.

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