Apart from his reputation as an acclaimed conductor and founder of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai is perhaps best known to classical listeners for his completion of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 10 in F sharp major, which he recorded in 2001 and released on the Laurel label. It appeared on Brilliant Classics in a pairing with his 1999 recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie. This recording has been separated from the Tenth in this 2010 reissue, and the live performance of the Fifth now shines on its own, without the other work overshadowing it. Indeed, this is hardly filler but one of the composer's best-known masterpieces, and the performance is of such high technical caliber, vibrant instrumental color, expressive passion, and physical vitality, it could well have been the draw that persuaded some to try Barshai's version of Mahler's last and less familiar symphony. The Fifth has long enjoyed an immense popularity that is matched only by the First Symphony, and the market is certainly full of excellent recordings of this work. Barshai's exceptional offering holds its own with virtually any contender, and even bests some for its refined details, striking clarity, and absolute commitment. But what really impresses in this performance are the points that seem the most authentic and Mahler-like: the devastating climax of the second movement; the brash horns of the scherzo; the moderate, movendo tempo of the Adagietto; and the ebullient treatment of the Finale all feel close to what we know of Mahler's practice, and as an expert on the composer, Barshai is in a position to know. His interpretation stands with many great performances from the past, and this recording will truly deserve all future reissues by Brilliant. The reproduction is first-rate, with tremendous clarity of all the parts and the lovely resonance that belongs to the Berlin Philharmonic Hall's acoustics.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 5|