As a team, Osmo Vänskä and his Minnesota Orchestra began their collaboration with BIS in 2004, launching a Beethoven Symphony cycle that made reviewers worldwide sit up and take notice: "a modern reference edition" was the verdict on web site ClassicsToday.com, while Gramophone Magazine described it as "a Beethoven reforged for today's world". Twelve years later saw the release of the third and final disc in the Minnesota-Vänskä cycle of Sibelius's symphonies, with individual discs receiving distinctions such as a 2014 Grammy Award (for symphonies nos 1 and 4), Gramophone's Editor's Choice, Choice of the Month in BBC Music Magazine and inclusion on the annual list of best classical recordings in New York Times.
The present disc launches yet another series, of even more monumental proportions, with Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony, recorded by the orchestra under Osmo Vänskä in Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in June 2016. Composed in 1902, the purely instrumental work followed upon three symphonies that had all included vocal parts. This and the opening trumpet motif, an allusion to the rhythm that begins Beethoven's Fifth have been interpreted as Mahler's return to a more conventional idea of the symphonic genre. Other features are less traditional, however – a sometimes bewildering mixture of musical idioms reminds us of the melting-pot that Vienna was at the time, with allusions to Austrian, Bohemian and Hungarian styles. To an unsuspecting audience, the famous Adagietto for strings and harp – probably the best-known of all of Mahler's music – must also have been surprising, appearing at the heart of a work which is otherwise lavishly scored and orchestrated.
It's more than 20 years since Osmo Vänskä recorded any Mahler. That disc, of the chamber version of Das Lied von der Erde, was a one-off, but now, with cycles of the Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies already completed with the Minnesota Orchestra, this new account of the Fifth Symphony launches what's promised as a major Mahler series; the Second and Sixth Symphonies are apparently scheduled for release soon, too.
The Fifth, though, won't be to all tastes. There's something admirably unhistrionic about Vänskä's approach, but there are times when his determination to stop the performance from getting overheated holds things back. At 75 minutes, the whole thing is longer than most of the reference versions on disc, and the central scherzo and the adagietto especially seem laboured. Against that, both the funereal opening and the joyous release of energy in the finale are superbly stage-managed, and the orchestral playing is exceptional throughout.
Source: Andrew Clements (theguardian.com)
|Osmo Vänskä conducts the Minnesota Orchestra|
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
♪ Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor (1901-1902) [Edition Peters]
i. Trauermarsch. In gemessenem Schritt. Streng. Wie ein Kondukt
ii. Stürmisch bewegt, mit größter Vehemenz
iii. Scherzo. Kräftig, nicht zu schnell (Michael Gast, horn)
iv. Adagietto. Sehr langsam
v. Rondo – Finale. Allegro – Allegro giocoso. Frisch
Minnesota Orchestra (Erin Keefe, leader)
Conductor: Osmo Vänskä
Recording: June 2016 at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, USA
|Gustav Mahler (1902), Etching by Emil Orlik|
In latter-day attempts to rationalize the Fifth's internal coherence purely according to classical symphonic parameters, this inherent cultural conflict is often overlooked. For critics of the time, however, it was all-too evident. Many contemporary Austro-German commentators objected to Mahler's apparent flouting of symphonic etiquette. They did so not only on the usual grounds of the composer's refusal to pro vide a programme that would explain his supposed lack of musical logic and the dramatic eloquence of his idiom, but also because of his "distasteful" inclusion of Slavic, Magyar, Bohemian or otherwise vulgar, low-life music in the work, that both polluted a sacrosanct genre and at the same time ridiculed the popular and ethnic music employed, like a "king who puts on rags". With the benefit of over a century of hindsight from a post-modern perspective in which almost anything goes in music and in which Mahler's oeuvre has gained global acceptance, it is easy nowa days to dismiss these critics as ultra-conservative, narrow-minded, culturally imperialist, bigoted and so on. But Mahler's supporters, such as Julius Korngold and Arthur Schnitzler, were just as sensitive to the wide cultural mix of the Fifth Symphony. Sharing with the composer's opponents the same awareness of this startling outward-looking drive for eclecticism and inclusivity, they could nevertheless see the artistic value of such an approach to the symphony as a form – for Mahler an all-encompassing "world" of expression. Given the increasing political anxieties and hierarchical pressures at work within the vast and ethnically diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire at this time, it is perhaps not surprising that what was for some a forward-thinking, democratizing musical pluralism in this Symphony, was for others, such as Artur Eccarius-Sieber of Vienna's Neue musikalische Presse, something that marked out the composer – particularly in light of his Jewish-Moravian origins – as "the enemy of the culture of our time".
Notwithstanding the fact that, for a variety of reasons, certain critics would have adopted a default position of hostility towards Mahler whatever music he produced, there were nevertheless things about the Fifth Symphony which seriously challenged norms and expectations of the period. Through these the work enacted a narra tive that over the years has been submerged within the public consciousness by its more easily identifiable and more frequently discussed trajectories: ones of "progressive" tonality (C sharp minor to D major), darkness to light, adagio to allegro, and funeral march to rumbustious rondo finale. If we endeavour to listen with early twentieth-century ears, insofar as that is possible, we may get closer to unearthing this hidden "story".
The first movement plunges in and out of sometimes distinct, sometimes partially blended musical topics (opening serious "Trauermarsch", subsequent [though arguably not subsidiary] Bohemian dirge [later embellished with wind band and percussion sonorities], völkisch parallel-sixth melodic movement, "trio" section com prising "high-art" striving chromaticism), most of which are underpinned by the repetitive tread of bass fourths with which Mahler began his compositional career in, for example, the 1880 folk-inspired song Maitanz im Grünen. Expressions of ingenuous folk-like sentiments nonetheless struggle to assert themselves and are either infused with "high-art" symphonic complexities of melody and harmony, or are simply halted and replaced with reprises of the dominant opening "Trauermarsch" material.
The second movement develops this musical debate in interesting new ways. Beginning in resolute, high-romantic style, it demonstrates what a bona fide second idea could sound like – as if the preceding movement's Bohemian dirge were absorbed fully into the world of organic symphonic argument and art-music gestures. The precarious nature of established concert-hall decorum as well as the subtle inner connections between the first two movements are revealed, however, when seemingly out of nowhere, and marked by a mid-bar vertical line running down the entire length of the orchestral score, the parallel-sixth glimmer of light from the opening movement's folk dirge intervenes, merging with its "high-art" alter ego and leading into a momentary glimpse of diatonic arcadia in a distant A flat major (the movement starts in A minor), followed by a brief brass chorale in A major. This latter recurs more forcefully yet ultimately impotently later in the movement, its bright D major imposed uncomfortably on a prevailing E flat minor. Thus two means of countering, stabilizing and resolving the agitated, "high-art" romantic striving of this movement emerge from an exterior vantage point: the folk-like and the chorale. Neither can at this stage come to full fruition, and the movement leaves us in a state of uncertainty with many questions of musical interior and exterior, organic and non-organic, "high" and "low" yet to find satisfactory answers.
The third movement scherzo is more brazen in its projection of folk music topics. The "Alphorn" initiates an energetic round-dance or Ländler in D major based on simple tonic-dominant harmonic reiterations. Now "high-art" processes (in this case contrapuntal workings) have been relegated to a secondary position in this opening section. These are themselves swept away in favour of the seemingly echt-Viennese or perhaps Carinthian, but in truth thoroughly re-processed, waltz in the salon style of folkloric luminary Thomas Koschat, from whose then-famous "Lieder spiel" Am Wörthersee – performed numerous times at the Vienna Opera – Mahler admitted he had borrowed thematically. Various attempts are made to reconcile the folk- and art-music impulses, everything "kneaded through and through" as Mahler put it. But though the waltz and opening horn material are subjected to symphonic developmental transformation – through recombination, contrapuntal elaboration, harmonic sideslips, melodic distortions – there come points of no return after which the process either dissipates into nostalgic suspension of activity, or the horn reasserts its opening character, in a seemingly endless cycle of intensification, collapse and restatement. The opposing struggles for containment of the folk impulse and for the unfettering of "high-art" protocols are deepened considerably here.
The Adagietto movement reminds us that the Fifth Symphony was written (in the summers of 1901 and 1902 in Maiernigg) at a time of great personal and professional success for Mahler. During its composition he met, created a child with, and married Alma Schindler, while concurrently ascending towards the heights of his directorial period at the Vienna Hofoper in terms of repertoire and revitalizing of the ensemble. It has been suggested that this gentle "song without words" was written in honour of his future wife, expanding the symphonic structure to five movements, although on grounds of pacing and dramatic coherence it is difficult to believe that Mahler would not otherwise have interpolated some kind of slower movement between scherzo and finale. It acts as a foil and prelude of sorts to the ensuing rondo which finally inverts some of the hierarchies so far established and interrogated in the Symphony. The final movement's opening material built on rustic drones extends influence over the following subordinate, ostensibly "highart" fugal material which unlike its contrapuntal equivalent in the scherzo remains thoroughly diatonic and tonally stable, even naive. Repetitive fourths abound in this movement, whether as bass lines or melodic ascents and descents (deriving from the Adagietto), dominating the various instances of classical counterpoint; traditional pedal-based build-ups from the world of art music lead nowhere, as if turned into folk drones; dashing salon- and ballroom-like gestures glitter on the sur face; and the eventually triumphant chorale emerges seamlessly from earlier fugal counterthemes. In other words, generic, stylistic, interior, exterior, high, low, historical and social hierarchies have been re-thought. Cultural capital has been inverted or subverted through projecting mobile identities and radically different perspec tives. Mahler has shown how elements considered foreign to the world of the symphony not only can be successfully introduced into it, but also can be made to serve as its main structurally generative content. He liberates and validates the nomadic, the migratory, the collective, the supposedly peripheral and inferior, and in doing so harnesses powers of emancipation and reconciliation that not only under pinned many subsequent musical developments of the twentieth century, but also have continued to preoccupy all manner of artists, movements, societies, and political régimes to this day.
Source: Jeremy Barham, 2016 (CD Booklet)
|Osmo Vänskä conducts the Minnesota Orchestra|
Hailed as "exacting and exuberant" (The New York Times), Osmo Vänskä is recognized for his compelling interpretations of the standard, contemporary and Nordic repertoires. Music director of the Minnesota Orchestra since 2003, Vänskä has received extra ordi nary acclaim for his work with many of the world's leading orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra. He has also developed regular relationships with the Mostly Mozart Festival (New York) and the BBC Proms. His numerous discs for BIS continue to attract the highest acclaim, as testified by the nomination for a Grammy Award for the performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Minnesota Orchestra; in 2014 his Minnesota recording of Sibelius' First and Fourth Symphonies won a Grammy Award. Vänskä studied conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and was awarded first prize in the 1982 Besançon International Young Conductor's Competition. During his tenure as principal conductor of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (from 1988 to 2008), he raised the orchestra s international profile, taking it on successful tours and making recordings. His conducting career has also included substantial commitments to such orchestras as the Tapiola Sinfonietta, Iceland Symphony Orchestra and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Vänskä is the recipient of a Royal Philharmonic Society Award, Musical America's 2005 Conductor of the Year award, and the Arts and Letters award from the Finlandia Foundation.
Source: CD Booklet
The Minnesota Orchestra, founded in 1903 as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, is recognized as one of America's leading symphony orchestras, winning acclaim for its performances at home and in major European music centres. In 2015, it became the first American orchestra to perform in Cuba following a thaw in relations between the two countries. The Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä was appointed the orchestra's tenth music director in 2003, joining a long line of celebrated music directors: Eiji Oue, Edo de Waart, Sir Neville Marriner, Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Antal Doráti, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, Henri Verbrugghen and Emil Oberhoffer. The Minnesota Orchestra's radio history began in 1923 with a national broadcast under guest conductor Bruno Walter and continues today with regional and national broadcasts. Historic recordings of the orchestra, which date back to 1924, include releases for RCA Victor, Columbia, Mercury "Living Presence" and Vox Records. The orchestra's recordings of the Beethoven and Sibelius symphonies with Vänskä have been hailed internationally, with their album featuring Sibelius's First and Fourth Symphonies winning the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in 2014.
The Orchestra has received many awards for adventurous programming, and the ensemble regularly commissions and premières new works as it continues to nourish a strong commitment to contemporary composers. The Minnesota Orchestra makes its home at the acoustically brilliant Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis.
Source: CD Booklet
|Osmo Vänskä conducts the Minnesota Orchestra|
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|Osmo Vänskä conducts the Minnesota Orchestra|
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor – Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia, Christoph Eschenbach (HD 1080p)
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Gustav Mahler: Symphony No.5 in C sharp minor – Lucerne Festival Orchestra, Claudio Abbado
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