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I’ve just finished watching another wonderful performance of
a Mahler symphony by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, conducted
by Claudio Abbado. In this case, it was Mahler’s “Fifth Symphony,”
dating from 1902. Maestro Abbado and the Lucerne Festival
Orchestra recorded this piece in 2004 and it was released under
the EuroArts label, the following year.

As with the other four Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) symphonies
(Nos. 2, 3, 6 and 7) that I’ve seen this ensemble perform under
Claudio Abbado, the level of expertise and fervor of these
players is inspiring to behold. I can honestly say that I’ve never
seen a more “committed” orchestra perform this music. Such
commitment pays big dividends in this symphony, where every
section of the orchestra is given the chance to shine. Mahler’s
“Fifth Symphony” is the first one to demonstrate his prowess
in polyphonic writing to a major degree, and there are often
many different strands in this work which vie for the listeners
attention simultaneously. In other words, there’s a lot going on!

As anyone familiar with this work will attest, the emotional
range of this symphony is huge, and any conductor leading
this piece has to have a “master plan” of sorts, to pull it off
from an emotional and technical level. The “Fifth Symphony” is
a sort of journey from darkness to light, replete with many
different color gradations and emotions that are typical of
Mahler’s music. It is in three different sections, with the first
two movements comprising the first section. The third movement
is the longest of the piece, and comprises the second section.
The last section consists of the famous Adagietto, and the
Rondo Finale.

Maestro Abbado clearly had a grand design in mind here, and
at a running time of just less than 68 minutes, he led a relatively
brisk, but not hurried performance. The roughly eight-minute
Adagietto was definitely one of the faster renditions of this
famous movement that I’ve heard, yet it still worked quite
well. After all, there is a difference between Adagietto and Adagio.

I recognized the first horn player as the same musician who
played Mahler’s “Fifth Symphony” with the Berlin Philharmonic
Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle, which was also available on
DVD. This player stood for his important obbligato part during
the third movement. It would have been nice if the camera
work had included more footage of the remainder of the horn
section during this movement, thereby allowing viewers to
note that only five of the six French horns were used. I also
felt that as with the other Mahler symphonies I’ve observed
in this series, the horns could have “let ‘er rip” a bit more at
times, playing with more “chutzpah.” However, this minor
quibble is not meant to imply that this section was anything
less than outstanding, just like the remainder of this
all-star orchestra.

In general, the camera work was excellent. I even had the
option of observing this performance via the “conductor camera,”
which would have allowed me to solely focus on Maestro Abbado’s
activities for the entire symphony! It’s certainly not something
I would ordinarily want to do, but I suppose it is a nice
alternative feature to have on this DVD.

The sound engineering was once again excellent, and
provided the wide dynamic range called for in this work, with a
great transparency of the score. This DVD is highly recommended.