Valery Gergiev: LSO

Any recording of Mahler’s 5th Symphony is a tricky undertaking. Not only because it presents huge challenges both musically and technically for players and conductor but because, along with Beethoven’s eponymous 5th, it is one of the most recorded works on the planet. So there have to be some very good reasons to justify a new recording.

'Why are we doing this?' was a particular concern for the LSO and Valery Gergiev in the early stages of the planning for the Mahler cycle. There are many fine Mahler cycles in the record catalogues: ‘me too’ is not a good enough reason for another one.  The deciding factors were twofold. Firstly Gergiev’s belief that the essence of Mahler’s music is more radical and less spiritual than recent tradition would imply and secondly that Mahler’s writing for solo instruments is unique in the opportunities it offers an orchestra’s principal players – and the LSO’s principals are world class.

The 5th opens with an ominously funereal theme played by the solo trumpet, which can be seen as Mahler’s tribute to his hero Beethoven’s own 5th symphony. The solo trumpet in this recording is Philip Cobb, the LSO’s exceptional new principal trumpet, who joined the orchestra from the Guildhall School of Music and is proving a worthy successor to the legendary Maurice Murphy.

But the core of the work is the Scherzo and at the heart of the Scherzo is one of the most extraordinary solos for horn in the orchestral repertoire. Planted in the centre of the orchestra, David Pyatt dominates the movement with a golden tone and musicality that on its own are reason enough for the LSO recording.

The huge dynamic range of the Symphony presents special problems for conductor and recording crew. Gergiev made it clear from the start that a wide dynamic range was very much part of his conception and he did not want there to be any technical compression. If that meant that, in some of the intensely still moments such as the opening of the famous Adagietto, extraneous sounds could be heard then so be it.  The music is what matters.

In the final reckoning this recording of Mahler’s 5th is a considerable triumph for orchestra and conductor and, by general consent, fully justifies its place in an already well stocked catalogue.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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