A friend in a European orchestra Facebook Messaged me about the qualities of French flutist turned conductor, François-Xavier Roth. The orchestra loved the well-dressed musician's approach and generally pleasant nature. This coupled with expectations of the highest musical standards.
Because of the the FB heads up, I checked out his recent live show with the LSO on YouTube (played on my 55" Sony Bravia 4K TV with a full SONOS system—almost like being there). Wonderful Debussy, Bartok and a superb Bruckner 4th.
Although recent history counts the WDR Orchestra (the ubiquitous radio moniker of many German orchestras) as the top Cologne band, the Gürzenich Orchestra has a long and distinguished history, including giving the first performance in 1904 of Mahler's 5th Symphony. Named after the hall in which it played originally, François-Xavier Roth took over as the orchestra's Music Director in 2015. Sounds like he's building a fine career and bringing some spit and polish to the Cologne musicians.
The orchestra sounds excellent with only a very few ensemble wobbles under the scrutiny of very expensive headphones. Otherwise, the orchestra is spot on. With youth orchestras, you relish when a top trumpeter appears. You immediately program Mahler 5. The Gürzenich is lucky to have a fabulous principal trumpet—the solos are superb and echt Mahler. Swooning in the brass and strings, so prevalent in many Mahler recordings, is replaced with tasteful portamentos and glissandos. In fact, the phrasing throughout is very tasteful. And coupled with excellent playing and superb solos, this makes for a very satisfying performance.
The famous Adagietto is very beautiful and heartfelt. Roth plays down the schmaltz leaving nothing but restrained grace. I think Mahler devotees will like it. And the finale, while not Chicago/Solti quality, is raucous and fun.
A surprisingly good disc. And a brilliant recording by the Harmonia Mundi engineers. It'll be an audiophile digital favourite in no time.
Mahler: Symphony No. 5
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, François-Xavier Roth
Release Date: 17th Nov 2017
Length: 70 minutes