Moreno Valiente’s Mahler Fifth

cover IBS-192020

MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 / Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga; José María Moreno Valiente / IBS Classical 192020

While the rest of the classical reviewing community is doing cartwheels over Osmo Vänska’s series of Mahler Symphonies, of which I’ve only really liked No. 7 so far, here we get a young conductor leading an Andalusia-based Spanish orchestra in a truly monumental performance of a symphony once approached only gingerly by a few maestri but now considered one of the cornerstones of the symphonic repertoire.

Oh yes, this is no ordinary Mahler Fifth. Immediately following the opening trumpet fanfare, Moreno Valiente digs into it with the tragic cast that Klaus Tennstedt once had for this work. And just listen to the masterful manner by which Moreno Valiente handles that tricky contrapuntal passage that begins around 5:40 in the first movement. Then, after the tympani plays its version of the opening fanfare, the strings and horns dig into their turbulent contrapuntal passage with real commitment. It’s not just that the orchestra plays it well; it feels the music well.

The second movement is just as great as the first, the hectic, wild opening being under complete technical control while still projecting the proper feeling of the music—and without the distortions of a Bernstein to interfere with what Mahler actually wrote. And he brings out so much detail in the orchestration that it baffles you to consider why you’ve never heard these details so clearly before. Then, in the third-movement scherzo, there is the buoyancy of the rhythm, so perfect that you could almost bounce a ball on it.

Moreno ValienteMoreno Valiente’s approach to the “Scherzo” takes Mahler’s instructions to “Do not rush” certain passages literally, relaxing the tempo in such a way that at times it almost sounds like an “Andante,” yet he manages to integrate this with the faster tempi preceding and following those pages to make a coherent whole. The famous “Adagietto” floats in the ether like series of passing clouds, occasionally becoming louder by degrees and then just as gradually moving back down to a softer level—and again, it all sounds organic. The finale is a real delight, much like Beethoven’s peasant dance after the storm in his Sixth Symphony.

Let me tell you, Moreno Valiente is some kind of conductor; if this performance is indicative of his work as a whole, he is headed for stardom…I hope. I’ve now put this above Riccardo Chailly’s very fine recording as my modern-digital Mahler Fifth of preference.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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