Mahler-Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor (Chicago Symphony Orch/Barenboim) (1997)

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Released 11-May-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Classical Main Menu Animation
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 75:07
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (45:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Bob Coles

Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Daniel Barenboim
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Case Super Jewel
RPI $44.95 Music Gustav Mahler

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame Audio Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, during credits

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Plot Synopsis

    Under the baton of Georg Solti, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra managed some very good recordings of the music of Gustav Mahler. Indeed, they have provided one of the most consistent and satisfying complete cycles of the Mahler symphonies on CD. A pity that Daniel Barenboim is no Georg Solti. The music of Gustav Mahler, most notably his orchestral music, has the reputation of being "difficult" music to "get into". I have always had something of an aversion to his symphonies, but do enjoy his Symphonies Nos 1, 4, 5 and 9. Equally however, I have an aversion to certain conductors of this music as very few have any real idea about it. In fact, one of the very best Mahlerian conductors was Bruno Walter who actually studied with the composer, and even he refused to play two of the symphonies as he felt they were not worthy pieces. The conductors who are unexcelled in these symphonies are Bruno Walter in the first and ninth symphonies, George Szell in the fourth symphony and Sir John Barbirolli in the fifth symphony, and I treasure their recordings of these works. So basically I went into the review expectantly on the one hand but reticent on the other, for this is a symphony that I do enjoy. The orchestra is a good one, but the conductor is not one of my favourites.

    This is a performance of Symphony No.5 recorded at the Kolner Philharmonie in 1997, by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its chief conductor Daniel Barenboim. When all is said and done, this is not a really great performance of the work. Indeed, as this sort of plods its way to its conclusion, I was battling the obvious effects of boredom (yawning my head off), which is no indication of great musical performance, believe me. Whilst there are some highlights here amongst some of the principals, broadly speaking the overriding impression is the woeful conducting. Daniel Barenboim waves his arms like some demented scarecrow, raising a lather of sweat more akin to someone having gone fifteen rounds in a heavyweight contest, and for what? He just personifies to me what Norman Lebrecht has to say about conductors in his fascinating books Who Killed Classical Music? and The Maestro Myth. His dramatic gestures have little or no bearing on the music or what the orchestra is doing, and only reduce him to something barely more than a buffoon. I appreciate that the concept of the maestro is such that conductors are placed on some sort of podium as demi-gods, but really when you see Daniel Barenboim waving his arms everywhere, you do have to question why exactly you need a conductor. I also appreciate that there are many who hold a vastly different opinion than I with respect of Daniel Barenboim and those people will obviously find much more to enjoy here than I.

    As a performance, this is not something to rave over. If you want to listen to a great performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.5 then I would heartily recommend that you acquire a copy of the EMI CD of the 1969 performance by Sir John Barbirolli. It is a magnificent performance that brings a glorious warmth to this symphony, and makes the work far more approachable. Everything that is so wonderful about the Barbirolli performance is missing in bucket loads from this performance. I could only recommend this DVD to staunch Mahlerians and fans of the conductor - the rest of us should await something better as far as musicality is concerned. Until that recording arrives, I will happily play my Barbirolli CD on my DVD player instead.

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Transfer Quality


    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Just as the music slowly induced strong boredom in me, slowly but surely the transfer really started to grate on me the longer the performance went. The problems start with what is on first impression a reasonably sharp transfer, but it soon becomes obvious that this transfer has a slight problem with the sharpness and there are obvious indications of a slight diffuseness of image throughout. The image generally could be classified as soft, and this compounds a somewhat compressed depth of field in the image. Perversely, there does appear to be some issue with edge enhancement in the transfer (such as at 10:25 on the sleeve). Detail is not exactly terrific either at times, with the wider images of the whole stage being decidedly indistinct. Fine detail is lost due to a fairly noticeable over-brightness of the image, with further detail being lost due to film-to-video artefacts. A good example of the sort of washed-out detail that the over-brightness brings is in the sheet music, which far from showing music just shows nothing. Shadow detail is good but not spectacular. Clarity is very good and there are no obvious grain issues in the transfer. There are no problems with low level noise here.

    The colour on offer here is diminished by the somewhat overbright transfer at times. At times gorgeously saturated, at other times very mildly undersaturated, there is a degree of inconsistency in this transfer. One thing that is certain is that the transfer could have done with a bit more depth to the blacks here. Having said that though, the second movement of the work seems to feature slightly deeper black tones than the rest of the transfer, as well as being slightly less affected by the over-brightness. The transfer is quite a vibrant effort nonetheless. There are no obvious indications of oversaturation issues nor colour bleed issues.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer. However, the transfer suffers significantly from film-to-video artefacts, initially of a minor nuisance but eventually most annoying due to their sheer consistency. The aliasing problems start early (the baton at 1:35) and just keep on going and getting worse (at 31:27 in the music stands, which is most noticeable). Just about everything that can display aliasing does so: violin strings, bows, music stands, horn keys and so on. Some of the aliasing is really forced into your consciousness by significant aliasing in violin strings in close-up shots (such as at 47:45). and it is the usual culprits that rear their heads: violin strings, picture frames, edges of instruments and the like. Add into the mix some fairly obvious cross colouration issues in cello and bass strings (12:35, 16:34, 16:56, 37:01 and 42:42) and some moiré artefacting in the music stands in particular (26:46 and 31:27). There are no film artefacts in the transfer.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD with the layer change coming at 45:02. This is placed in the pause between the third and fourth movements and whilst it is noticeable, it is not disruptive to the performance.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, being an Audio Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack and an Audio Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I listened to the Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and only briefly sampled the Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 soundtrack.

    The music comes up well in the transfer. There did not appear to be any audio sync problems in the transfer.

    About the only thing that you could really fault in the Dolby Digital audio transfer is a slight drop-out of the sound at 24:18, but beyond that this is quite a serviceable soundtrack. A higher transfer rate might have given this a slightly more open sound, which might well have aided the whole performance somewhat. Beyond that, there is not much to talk about, although switching between the two soundtracks indicated that there is very little difference between them. The Linear PCM soundtrack is good and stands up to comparison with the Dolby Digital soundtrack quite well indeed..

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The menus might have a classy look to them but the rest of the package really leaves you cold.


    Very nicely and very stylishly done, with some understated animation.


    A decent if a little short effort that provides brief notes about the music and the performers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This appears to be identical to the Region 1 release in all respects, apart from NTSC formatting.


    A sadly disappointing effort across the board. The performance is nothing to write home about and misses a lot of the warmth that the great conductors bring to the music. The video transfer is plagued with aliasing and other issues, despite being spread over two layers of a dual layered DVD. The audio transfer is adequate for the task required of it. Overall, this DVD of Mahler Symphony No.5 really has little to commend it, unless you are a very serious fan of either the composer or the conductor.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Friday, September 14, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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