Georges Prêtre conducts Mahler Symphony No.5

Mahler Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
Wiener Symphoniker
Georges Prêtre
May 19, 1991; Live; Grosser Saal Konzerthaus Wiener (73:06)

Recording Date & Location : May 19, 1991
Live, Grosser Saal Konzerthaus Wien

Weitblick SSS0078

As a conductor Prêtre (b. 1924) stands out to me for his recordings of the music of French composers and his opera performances, notably that Carmen with Maria Callas. Who knew that he could conduct Mahler too?

In this live performance from 1991,  the French conductor leads a rendition that satisfies from start to end. While not being by any means a new reference version, Prêtre is a most persuasive Mahlerian.  He performs with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, not one of the big three or four Orchestras associated with a long history of Mahler, yet with a distinct style of their own.

His approach tends toward the more lyrical, without being underpowered in the more muscular passages of the first and second movements. True, other conductors have found more tragedy, more vehemence in the first and second movements, but as a performance everything works remarkably well and fits as a whole. The Scherzo, in particular, finds a really nice balance between tension and the more relaxed atmosphere of the Trios.

The playing is excellent, with a poised horn soloist in the Scherzo, though perhaps not as plush in the strings as their more famous counterparts. There are hardly any flubs, and the Viennese flair for the Landler comes in handy in that lovely, slightly spooky pizzicato strings segment.

At just over ten minutes, the Adagietto is hardly sehr langsam, but it too, finds a suppleness in execution that I find more moving than the slower marmoreal readings of some conductors.  The Finale is as thrilling, and as well paced as any I’ve heard.

A lovely souvenir of a memorable concert, with Prêtre’s handling of Mahler a pleasant surprise.

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