MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 – Berlin Philharmonic Orch./ Herbert von Karajan – DGG 479 1053 Pure Audio Blu-ray (PCM 2.0, DTS MA HD 2.0, Dolby TrueHD 2.0, 24 bit/ 96 kHz), 73:45 [Distr. by Universal] ****:
I am referring everyone who reads these new DGG Blu-ray Pure Audio reviews to my review of the Kleiber Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 reissue for comments and details on this series in general. This particular recording by Karajan and Berlin has always been the subject of much debate and controversy. The conductor is not normally considered a “Mahler conductor” even though a few of his recordings, like his Ninth, are truly sublime. This one, dating from 1973, is intensely and immensely exciting, a real assault of the bombast element, and one that gets the blood rushing like few others that he did. The vaunted Adagio is one of the most passionate on record, with the last suspended fourth chord seeming to melt away after an eternity of non-resolution, and the Finale is gloriously radiant.
So what’s wrong? Nothing as far as I am concerned, for I long ago learned how to live with Karajan’s bloated DGG recordings from this era, bass-light, always clear, though usually interpretatively gorgeous, as this one. But the orchestra at the time was littered with substandard playing, and there are a number of bloops and blunders that one is amazed didn’t go corrected with retakes. And of course Karajan used very large forces whenever possible, and loved the sound of a homogenized and vast acoustic that rolls through the sonic landscape like a Panzer division. This remains one of my favorite Fives, even though my reasons might be a tad perverse. [Certainly more unbuttoned than any other Karajan recording…Ed.]
This was never a brilliant sounding recording, and still isn’t—I like it for its excitement, as I said. But this is also the best it has ever sounded, so for those interested it’s the one to get, and was never available in anything but standard definition.