BBC Music Magazine

This may not be perfect, but how the Philharmonia players must now be nostalgic for the rigour of Esa-Pekka Salonen, their principal conductor, after the torpor of Lorin Maazel's recent Mahler cycle. It's perhaps more impressive as sound than shape. The brass are heroic and dauntingly present throughout—from the tuba that executes a fiendish trill in the finale to the clarion trumpets fanfaring the doom-marches. Salonen has had to work over the years on late-Romantic phrases; he has always been more of a note-by-note texturer. He can just about get away with a dragging rather than impetuous first march, but the liberation of the soaring A major theme doesn't quite happen, since it's too pulled around. Praise be for the more dramatic of the much-contested middle-movement orderings: Scherzo second and Andante third. And while it's good to hear a third movement that's not stuck in the mud, it does feel a little too pushed for sinuous grace. The real payoff of live performance comes, as ever, in the final drive towards a victory that implodes. Here, the clarity of Salonen's Philharmonia strings in apocalyptic welters only enhances the excitement of the ride to the abyss. And the fact that the Philharmonia is combating dry, unenhanced Festival Hall acoustics makes the imposingly warm sound Salonen often creates seem all the more impressive