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John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, October 2009

This Mahler disc, for example, boasts one of America’s finest conductors, James DePreist, and one of the world’s finest orchestras, the London Symphony…DePreist’s recording is a decent alternative at any price. Given that Mahler symphonies, and especially the Fifth, provide enough varied material—from grave and gloomy to joyful and triumphant, from lush and lovely to grand and imposing—for any conductor to make his mark, it’s a wonder there is any consensus at all about who might be “best.”

DePreist takes a kind of middle-of-the-road approach. The performance does not carry the weight of a Solti, the exuberance of a Rattle, or the intense personal emotion of a Barbirolli, but it does have a little of each of these elements. The Scherzo, which is at the heart of this big, purely orchestral work, is appropriately zippy and happy after the relatively dark (albeit sometimes resounding) opening movement, followed by the famous Adagietto (the composer’s so-called love letter to his wife-to-be), taken slowly and comfortably. After that, I’m not sure it was even necessary for Mahler to write a Finale, but it brings the work to a delicious close…

Mike Smith
Fine Music, August 2007

James DePriest and the London Symphony Orchestra have propelled this disc to the top of the 2006 Naxos charts….The playing throughout this performance is impassioned, with some superb brass passages…The Adagietto works well, with a sense of real yearning from the LSO strings. The famous ‘cliff-hanger’ moment towards the end of the movement is beautifully managed, not holding us in eternal suspense as does Bernstein, nor glossing over with barely an acknowledgement as does Haitink with the Concertgebouw on Philips.

The quality of the recording is excellent, well balanced and crisp, with the multiplex of lines in Mahler’s sparkling orchestration clearly discernible…This release is a very satisfying performance, free of disturbing idiosyncrasies, and at the Naxos budget price it is well worth a try.

American Record Guide, June 2007

This is my first exposure to DePreist's Mahler, and it is excellent.

The opening trumpet fanfare is fast, but tempos thereafter are in the usual range. The final pizzicato chord in I is marked sf (sforzando: "sudden, strong accent"), but DePreist along with many other conductors, treats it al fortissimo. Not disturbing, but Mahler's sf is preferable.

II is thematically a close cousin to I, and its mood of hand-wringing desperation is perfectly conveyed by DePreist. III is the longest scherzo of any in the symphonic repertoire, as you might deduce from its 19:32 length in this performance. The movement has expressive ritardandos, some of them not in the score, but they are not disruptive, because of DePreist's inherent musicality. After all, he is Marian Anderson's nephew! The many horn solos in this movement are brilliantly managed. IV, the famous Adagietto, is interpreted here more intensely and louder than usual, but is lovely nevertheless. At 10:39, it is slower than we know Mahler intended it to be (7-9 minutes), but these days most performances of the Adagietto are even slower than that.

DePreist starts V attacca (without a break), per the score, and I wish other conductors would heed Mahler's instruction, because the effect is wonderful. This movement proceeds at a sensible rate, but DePreist adds a retard in the coda that, though not in the score, does no harm.

A nice touch in the notes is the crediting of two musicians who perform difficult solos superbly. They are Maurice Murphy, trumpet and Timothy Jones, french horn. Sonics are fine.

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, May 2007

For 25 years music director of the Oregon Symphony, Mr. DePreist is now director of conducting and orchestral studies at the Juilliard School. His has not been the highest-profile career, but he's a widely respected musician.

Like most conductors, he takes the Adagietto of the Mahler Fifth slower than the composer intended. (Mr. DePreist's timing is 10 minutes, 42 seconds, vs. the eight-minute timings of performances by Mahler himself and his protégé Bruno Walter.) Still, commendably, the American conductor evokes tenderness rather than sentimentality, and the performance as a whole, with possibly the best of today's London orchestras, is thoughtful and communicative. At Naxos' bargain price, and with natural sonics, it's a winner.

Michael Southern
Pittwater Life, March 2007

It’s a bit of a coup for a budget label to get one of the top five orchestras in the world, but Naxos has achieved that with this Mahler recording. James De Priest is well known in America and has appeared in concert halls around Asia and Europe; it has taken him a long time to establish his reputation in England nor is there much to his recording career. The Mahler fifth is not the easiest of symphonies to bring off, but well done it is a masterpiece and no doubt that is why DePriest faced the challenge which the finest conductors and orchestra in the world have tried. This is a well paced recording…the LSO is in fine form and responds well to Mr DePriest’s direction. The final movement with the brass chorale at the end is worth the budget price of this record.

Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, February 2007

The Mahler symphonies have had a somewhat episodic history on Naxos: most of the recently completed cycle features Antoni Wit conducting either the Polish National Radio-TV Orchestra or the Warsaw National Philharmonic; but the recordings of the First, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies were conducted by Michael Halász. Now, another Fifth appears, conducted by a distinguished American with the mighty LSO. Whatever its provenance (and why look such an attractive gift horse in the mouth?), this is a sturdy, musically solid performance. The first movement is characterized by commanding fanfares and the steady tread of the funeral march. DePreist doesn’t linger over the latter, but he isn’t as hasty as Sir Roger Norrington in his view of the fanfares, either. One unusual gesture is the sudden ritenuto immediately after the eruption of the quicker tempo at the first Trio; this seems to suggest that the struggle is almost too much. The timpani introduction to the second Trio is muted, becoming almost an echo at the end of its phrase, an effect repeated at the end of the coda, where the muted trumpet, which echoes the opening fanfare, is almost inaudible—a very haunting effect, made that much more interesting by the final note, which is decisively sforzando. The second movement is a convincing extension of the first, as the stormy opening gives way to the subdued echo of the funeral march. The two themes are convincingly alternated, the occasionally imploring character of the second theme suddenly giving way to optimism in the chorale that ends the development section; this is reinforced by its later D-Major variant, aptly described by Dr. Floros as “Vision of Paradise.” This performance amply demonstrates how apposite that characterization is, while the coda plunges the listener back into the maelstrom. DePreist takes Mahler’s indication of nicht zu schnell to heart for the Scherzo, as a very expansive tempo (very similar to that of Michael Tilson Thomas in his new Fifth) produces music of geniality rather than robust jollity, and it is a bit short on vigor for a movement marked kräftig (the last minute is an exception, as the music dashes to the end). The LSO copes easily with the relaxed tempo, producing music of strength in addition to good humor. The sound production from Abbey Road Studios is clarity itself, allowing the wide variety of instrumental effects in this mammoth score to be heard while producing the necessary sonic punch when required. The soundstage is satisfyingly wide and deep, and on the whole this recording can stand comparison with most of the Mahler Fifths on the market. Fanfare’s headnotes used to include the producer’s name, so I am happy to note here that the producer of this splendid-sounding recording is our own Michael Fine. The Adagietto is decidedly old school, clocking in at 10:42; as with the MTT performance, this can work if one accepts that there are often conflicting feelings being voiced, and if, as is the case here, there is some flexibility in the tempo. The prominent harp assists in giving the illusion of movement in this otherwise timeless music. On the whole, DePreist makes a better case for this kind of interpretation than Tilson Thomas. An echo of the amiability (and tempo) of the Scherzo is heard as DePreist ushers in the finale; the movement gains momentum as the rondo takes shape. The tempo marking Allegro giocoso, and the term Frisch, are utilized by Mahler to characterize this movement; “jolly” and “fresh” this interpretation certainly is, and the whole performance comes to an exhilarating close. For a symphony as oft-recorded as the Mahler Fifth, there have been (surprisingly) few featuring this orchestra; I for one am grateful to Maestro DePreist and his crew for producing such a successful performance with one of the world’s premier Mahler orchestras. At the Naxos price, this is one of the Mahler bargains of the decade.

David Patrick Stearns
The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 2007

Nobody saw this one coming. Philadelphia-born James DePreist had a good recording presence during his years with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, but recent health problems (a kidney transplant), an entry into academia (the Juilliard School), and a geographically remote conducting appointment (the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra) took him out of the American symphony mainstream.

But here we have core repertoire with a great orchestra, and a recording made under studio conditions at London's Abbey Road. The production values alone are a major selling point: Mahler's orchestration emerges in beautiful but not artificial terraces of sound that are nearly impossible to achieve at the orchestra's home hall in the Barbican Centre.

And though you'd expect an artist of DePreist's caliber to know the symphony inside out, he clearly feels every nanosecond in ways that remind you why initial encounters with this symphony were all but overwhelming.

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