DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 cond. by Chailly, Blu-ray (2014)

A benchmark performance and live recording of this Mahler favorite.

Published on June 11, 2014

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 cond. by Chailly, Blu-ray (2014)

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 cond. by Chailly, Blu-ray (2014) 

Performers: Gewandhaus Orch./ Riccardo Chailly 
Studio: Accentus Music ACC10284 (5/27/14) [Dist. by Naxos]
Video: 16.9 1080i HD color
Sound: DTS-HD MA 5.1, PCM Stereo
Languages: German, English, Japanese, Chinese
No Region Code
Extras: Documentary
Length: 73:37, Extras: 27:32
Rating: ****1/2

This new recording  from February 2013 of the Mahler Symphony No. 5 is a live performance on Blu-ray in stunning audio and pristine video. The Fifth is one of the most popular of the Mahler Symphonies, and for good reason. It is accessible, deeply moving, and at times a piece of transcendent exuberance.

There are other fine performances of this symphony on Blu-ray, including the Claudio Abbado on video, and the Karajan as an audio-only Blu-ray. [And as part of the Concertgebouw Complete Mahler Symphonies video we reviewed; and also the SACD conducted by Ivan Fischer…Ed.]

The symphony was composed in 1901 and 1902. The work is in five movements, and generally considered to be one of Mahler’s most conventional scores, although using the word ‘conventional’ and Mahler together is likely a poor description. The composer’s 5th, 6th and 7th symphonies are stylistically similar, and free of chorus or soloists.

Herbert Von Karajan often said that listening to the Fifth is a transforming experience, and I can’t argue. This performance by Riccardo Chailly is exciting, precise, filled with Mahler’s emotional musical language, and is played with enthusiasm in front of a live audience by the Gewandhaus Orchestra.

The contemporary recording venue in Leipzig is visually and aurally first rate. Sometimes I find the way these live concerts are directed to be distracting, yet here the camera work is subtle rather than jarring. The hall lighting is low and warm, so the audience does not detract.

This is a performance and recording without peer. Besides being a revered conductor, Chailly is also a scholar, and he made an in-depth study of the original score and Willem Mengelberg’s 1926 annotations to the score. Mengelberg was a close associate and friend of Mahler, which makes him an important reference point in researching the music.

Accompanying the disc is a 27-minute documentary featuring Chailly, as he explains his choices for the score, and the documentary also contains rehearsals where the conductor is in conversation with the orchestra. The bonus material is subtitled, with several language options including English.

This Mahler Fifth is a must buy for Mahler aficionados who want to see as well as listen to this stirring symphony. The DTS 5.1 sound is a perfect match for this composition, giving us the dynamic range that a good Mahler recording demands. There is also a stereo mix, but if you have the equipment, listen to it in 5.1.

—Mel Martin




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