Do we need another recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony? If it’s this altogether superior one featuring London’s Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Benjmain Zander, in stores today, the answer is: absolutely.
One of the blessings of Boston’s musical life is the presence of Zander, whose concerts with his Boston Philharmonic are among the most exciting of each season, and whose leadership of student orchestras at New England Conservatory regularly offers surprise after happy surprise.
The London Philharmonia has had its ups and downs since it was formed in 1945. But it has always served as a strong and adaptable vehicle for highly individual conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Ricardo Mutti, Christophe von Dohnanyi and Guiseppe Sinopoli (whose death of a heart attack at age 54 while leading a performance of Verdi’s Aida in Berlin last week shocked the music world).
Zander might not be as famous but his increasing number of Telarc recordings with the orchestra might change that. Those of us familiar with Zander and the Boston Philharmonic’s Mahler performances will quickly recognize the unity of Zander’s concept of this music. In most Mahler performances, there are passages, sometimes whole movements, where the momentum is often, irretrievably lost.
Not so in Zander’s Mahler. Here everything is part of a smoldering organic whole. Despite Mahler’s sometimes very weird meanderings, there’s never any doubt of the direction and utlimate outcome when Zander is wielding the baton. Always in charge, he hits the perfect balance between the driven and the divine in this music. And hearing Zander’s work realized with the sharp brilliance of the Philharmonia – aided by the disc’s superb sonics – is revelatory.
So is the bonus disc on which Zander offers insight into the work and his interpretation of it. It also includes several musical examples, some of which feature local artists including the Boston Philharmonic, the NEC Honors Orchestra and mezzo Jane Strauss.
Click here to listen to Mahler’s Symphony no. 5.