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Mahler: Symphony No. 5

Mahler: Symphony No. 5

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Musical America has just announced its awarding of Conductor of the Year to Semyon Bychkov. To learn more, click here.


After their critically-acclaimed recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, the Czech Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov continue their Pentatone Mahler cycle with a rendition of the composer’s Fifth. The Fifth Symphony marks an important turning point in Mahler’s symphonic output, away from the prominence of vocal movements in his previous symphonies. And whereas the Fifth seems to follow a teleology from darkness to light like its predecessors, the trajectory is much less straightforward, and full of enigmatic turns. Bychkov’s exceptional eye for detail and pacing make him an ideal guide through this work, while the Czech Philharmonic is capable of letting all the colors of Mahler’s score shine.

The Czech Philharmonic is one of the world’s most acclaimed orchestras, with a rich tradition of performing Czech masters and music from Central Europe. Semyon Bychkov has led the greatest orchestras of the world, and is Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic as of the 2018/2019 season. Orchestra and maestro made their Pentatone debut with a recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (2022), kicking off a complete Mahler cycle.


Bychkov is careful to keep the strings’ lyric funeral-marches objective, and it’s fascinating how the Adagietto sounds otherworldly until the cellos bring in a richly portamentoed human warmth.

The pace generally keeps things on the move – crucial in what I think of as Mahler’s trickiest movement, the ‘stormy, vehement’ sequel to the opening ritual, paced to perfection – though there are a couple of unmarked slackenings in the outer movements. Only here does Bychkov seem to me to fall briefly victim to seeing ‘nicht eilen’ (don’t hasten) and ‘unmerklich etwas einhaltend’ (imperceptibly somewhat holding back) either side of the last big build and slamming on the brakes.

I’d have liked a bit more wildness in the central Scherzo, though the end is uproarious, and from the opening trumpet solo through the lopsided horn obbligato at the dancing heart of the work to the reassertion of the chorale at the end, the brass both individually and collectively play their parts in underlining that this is still very much one of the world’s great orchestras. In all there’s clarity and beauty of tone. The luminous recording captures both high and low frequencies with exceptional vividness.

-- BBC Music Magazine

Bychkov’s version opens up a very different way of seeing this virtually ubiquitous symphony and he delivers on that vision with great panache and total commitment from all involved. Bychkov has emerged in the last few years as an unmissable conductor and the thought of what he might do with the Sixth symphony after hearing this Fifth has me tingling with anticipation.

-- MusicWeb International (David McDade)


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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 1
    • Release Date:
    • Label: Pentatone Music
    • UPC/Barcode: 8717306260213
    • Item Number: PTC5187021