Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony no. 5 in B flat (Haas edition) [87:40]
rec. live, 14, 16 January 1993, Philharmonie am Gasteig, Munich
Photocopied complete original booklet EMI CLASSICS 5566912 [48:03
I think I am right in saying that Bruckner was not an essential
part of Celibidache’s repertoire from the very beginning. Certainly,
I know of only two Bruckner performances given in his RAI period
from the 1950s through to the beginning of the 1970s: the F
minor Mass (Rome 1958) and the ninth symphony (Turin 1969),
both extremely fine performances at “normal” tempi. The latter
of these is now
available on DVD (Opus Arte OA0976D - see review).
As the brilliant if sometimes erratic maverick conductor of his early
years grew into a sage and philosopher, there could be cause
to regret the passing of the incandescent interpretations of
those heady times. On the other hand, it became apparent that
he had been destined from the first to be a supreme Brucknerian,
even if it took him half a career to find this out.
The present late statement on the Fifth gives the lie to the idea
that the way to disguise Brucknerian length is to take faster
tempi. Somehow, if the music is given its just space, it becomes
not formless and meandering, but taut and concise. The passage
from the severe baroque-inspired opening through the tragic
yet ethereal expanses of the slow movement and the ferociously
pounding Scherzo/Ländler to the thundering denouement, is an
arduous and variegated one. Yet every theme, every idea, every
period is allowed full time to make its point, with no trace
of sentimentality or affectionate lingering. There are no wasted
notes. As each section comes to an end we realize that the
musical argument has been taken a stage further. Paragraph
by paragraph, the symphony traverses its 88-minute ocean with
the inevitability and unstoppability of a transatlantic liner.
When the end is reached, we feel that the whole work has been
unfolded in a single span, yet an entire universe seems to
lie between that gruff opening and the closing chorale.
When listening to Celibidache’s performance of Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony
(see review) I wondered if I would gradually find his slow
tempi so incident-packed that I would come to find other performances
With Schumann I am still not so sure. As I said above, the
sage and philosopher of later years was not always an improvement
on his earlier self. With Bruckner, though, I should think
there’s a very real risk that, once this performance has got
inside you, it will spoil you for all others. That is really
the only reason I can think of for not getting this timeless
monument to two great musicians – Bruckner and Celibidache.
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