BRUCKNER: Symphony No.5
BBC Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Jascha Horenstein
BBC Legends BBCL 4033-2
Jascha Horenstein conducted three Bruckner Symphonies in London for the BBC
in 1970 and 71. The Eighth and Ninth have already appeared on BBC Legends
(BBCL 4017-2) and now the Fifth from the 1971 Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
completes the collection. Earlier that year he had suffered a heart attack
during a concert in the USA and this performance represented his return to
the concert platform. It has appeared before on no less than four unofficial
releases - Descant, Music and Arts, Intaglio, Phoenix - but this is its first
official release. Horenstein was a distinctive Bruckner stylist, though
this might not be obvious on passing acquaintance. Not for him the organic
growth from moment to moment of a Furtwangler or Jochum where style is evident
from the first bar. Horenstein leaned far more towards Klemperer's architectural
conception without quite the latter's suggestion of separate architectonic
"plates" within the music, each one stationary against each other yet pulling
in opposite directions, rather like "continental shift" threatening earthquakes.
The "continental shelves" in Horenstein's Bruckner had a little more "give"
to them. But there is an overriding grasp of the structure across a whole
piece and within individual movements, a sense of how each fits one with
another to make a satisfying whole without subsuming emotion and expression.
There's also a respect for, but not slavery to, passing moments achieved
by modular tempi set at the start and only slightly deviating. Finally there's
the ability to manipulate material over the longest spans to encompass parameters
of despair that are never self-indulgent and ecstasy that is never histrionic.
I believe the long-breathed approach keeps Horenstein's emotional compass
points, which are narrower than those of most colleagues, firmly in mind
but means all shades in between are more deeply appreciated by the listener
because they're heard "in the round." In all, Horenstein's Bruckner is a
case of "art concealing art" which, like a great novel, needs time to make
The Fifth responds to this approach because it's the most "architectural"
of all Bruckner's symphonies, the most concentrated and structurally dynamic.
In the first movement Horenstein opens with some wonderfully solid blocks
of sound that fill the spaces of the hall but then pushes on with the Allegro
as perfect foil. In the second movement the opening melancholia of the oboe,
a depiction of Bruckner's state of mind at a difficult time in his life I
think, finds Horenstein detached, cool and circumspect. But there's warmth
and above all dignity in the big theme for strings that throw a consoling
arm round this movement. In the Scherzo Horenstein manages his usual perfect
balance of power and strength but pays due attention to the tempo changes.
He sees the fourth movement as perfect counterpart to the first where the
questions that movement poses are answered triumphantly. The impression of
weight is palpable, as also is the feeling that here is someone who knows
Bruckner is a composer who demands a different mindset, the long breath and
the long thought. There are times when Horenstein's tempi are quite fleet
and yet never a sense of rush. As so often with this conductor the impression
at the close is that all had been thought out from the start with Horenstein
seeing the Fifth as Bruckner's most classical work and as such the perfect
antidote to the Jochums and Furtwanglers.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays well but without the real distinction that
marked the LSO in the Eighth Symphony the year before in the same hall. They
do, however, seem more in tune with his conception than they were with the
Ninth from the previous year. The brass sound a little tired by the end,
but this coda really does ask a lot of an orchestra after what they have
played and there are few in the world who can really do it justice in "live"
performance. The sound is an improvement on the one unofficial release I
have to hand on Music and Arts. There's more immediacy to the sound picture,
more richness to the brass, cleaner strings and a satisfying bass. There's
also more hall acoustic captured and in this work of Bruckner's more than
any other, using acoustic space in all those silences written into the score
is crucially important. Whatever the provenance of the tape the BBC has sourced
for this release, this is now the version to have.
So much depends on how you like your Bruckner played. Some find the approaches
of Klemperer and Horenstein too sober, too lacking in emotion and personal
involvement. As with so much great music there are no definitive performances
but I find Horenstein's version of the Fifth a mightily convincing example
of "head over heart". For those anxious to hear every aspect of this composer's
art, and for admirers of Horenstein, I recommend it enthusiastically.