Gerard Schwarz / Colburn Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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Mahler: Symphony No. 5 Review

by Blair Sanderson

Gerard Schwarz is not widely known as a Mahlerian, even though he has recorded most of the symphonies with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the Seattle Symphony and given creditable performances, though he hasn't won over the critics with any exceptional readings. This 2011 live recording of the Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor with the Colburn Orchestra features Schwarz as guest conductor, delivering a performance that has only a few technical problems, though it is unduly rushed and insufficiently expressive. The Colburn Orchestra plainly has the skills to perform Mahler effectively and even passionately, but by having it play the music too fast, Schwarz merely demonstrates that the players can keep up with his brisk and metronomically unyielding beat. If the tempos had been relaxed even a little in the outer movements, Schwarz could have elicited more expressive playing, which is absolutely vital in this ardent score. The Trauermarsch is clinical and perfunctory, lacking any feeling of terror or grief, and it is followed by a hasty and scrambling second movement that has little of the intended Sturm und Drang. The third movement opens at a somewhat slower speed than usual, and while this can be taken as a nod to the rustic Ländler that underlies almost all of Mahler's scherzos, it seems here to be an opportunity for everyone to catch a collective breath. Schwarz takes the famous Adagietto at a moderate speed, which actually accords with what is known about Mahler's preference, and the orchestra's expression is just about right. But after the relaxed opening of the Rondo-Finale, Schwarz jumps right into the fugue and pushes the orchestra just past the comfort zone, and the occasional scrappiness of the playing leaves little room for nuances. This is an interesting CD for Schwarz's fans to hear, but there are too many exceptional recordings of the Fifth on the market to say this one is competitive.

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