Originally published on October 2

The second release of this intended Mahler Symphony Cycle finds Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic in top form for an absorbing Fifth (captured during December last year). Especially impressive is Bychkov’s subtle changes of pace within movements, suiting the moment yet with everything belonging across the whole.

Opening with a flawless trumpet fanfare, the first movement, funereal, is heavy of heart and volatile – dark, oppressive and raging – and if there is too long a gap before the second movement begins, it is nevertheless suitably stormy, with an especially poignant still-centre of cellos-led reflection, following which there is some especially brilliant playing and revealing detailing. The pivotal and substantial Scherzo (Part II of the Symphony) is rumbustious, spiky, introspective and macabre – featuring confident, even brazen, horn solos (from the first-desk rather than the dubious ‘concerto’ position that Rattle and a few others thought worth taking up). Once again, Bychkov’s flexibility and attention to particulars, such as colour and syncopation, is very rewarding. The strings-and-harp Adagietto (Death in Venice, Dirk Bogarde) flows naturally for an intimate nine minutes – a billet-doux from Gustav to Alma – beautifully played, and for which we eavesdrop until passion is spent … and into the Finale, witty, urbane, contrapuntally exact – so many things nicely done, the throwaway horns at 5:42, for example, or circus clarinets at 12:51 – setting up a particularly glorious (the returning chorale) and joyous ending.

Favourite Mahler Fives of mine include Gielen, Kubelík and Sinopoli, to which Bychkov is a very distinguished addition – marvellous sound, too, wide dynamic range and strings always audible no matter how much is going on in the brass and percussion departments. Pentatone PTC 5187 021 is released on October 14.

Column post #4,000: RELEASED TODAY, April 8: Semyon Bychkov & the Czech Philharmonic, with Chen Reiss, record Mahler Four for Pentatone.

Czech Philharmonic: New contract for Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov.