François-Xavier Roth has raised eyebrows with historically informed interpretations of Baroque works and, recently, 20th century icons like the Rite of Spring, with his ensemble Les Siècles. His recording of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony is what I would call splendidly central.

I’ve long considered this work a sort of giant concerto for orchestra. No section can hide. Roth’s tempo for the first movement is almost jaunty and has none of the ‘baggage’ of Bernstein’s 1987 live Vienna Philharmonic London Proms recording (a performance which I was lucky enough to attend) or Barbirolli’s legendary 1968 New Philharmonia recording. Nonetheless, it works. Similarly, the second movement, which Roth successfully distinguishes from its predecessor. (Many conductors don’t!) The central scherzo – a giant fulcrum – is masterfully handled, the rubato producing chiaroscuro effects like clouds scudding across the sun on a windy day.

The famous Adagietto, at around ten minutes, is taken at a sensible tempo, without the neurasthenic wallow Bernstein (and, latterly Haitink) ultimately adopted. No shades of a mascara-streaked Dirk Bogarde wandering around the Venice Lido. The finale with its ‘woodland’ introduction is almost Mendelssohnian in its gossamer charm. The orchestral textures conjured up with Gürztenich Orchestra of Cologne are consistently transparent. A thoroughly recommendable version.


Composer: Mahler
Composition: Symphony No 5
Performer: Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth
Catalogue Number: Harmonia Mundi HMM905285