> Anton Bruckner - Symphony No. 5 [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Günter Wand
Rec 7 July 1974, Grosser Sendsaal, Cologne
RCA VICTOR 09026 63935 2 [74.33]


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Günter Wand, who died earlier this year (2002), could be claimed as the Bruckner conductor of our generation. For after years of relative obscurity in provincial Germany, from the mid-1970s his Bruckner performances in particular made him an international celebrity. And the Fifth Symphony is of course one of the great challenges for any orchestra and conductor.

The music is thankfully free from the editorial complexities which bedevil so many of Bruckner's symphonies, unless, that is, the performance features the revised version by Franz Schalk. Wand most certainly does not.

However, this is not a new issue, but rather a remastering of a performance recorded back in 1974. It does credit to the recording team that the music sounds so well, and at an appealing price the disc has much to offer. That said, the sound is far from ideal, and sometimes, as in the string music which adds so gloriously to the sonorous climaxes of the slow movement, the results seem rather dry and lacking in bloom.

It is, however, in the epic outer movements of this large four-movement symphony that judgements must rest. And Wand is a master as far as tempi and phrasing are concerned. It is not that he is strait-laced, his understanding of rubato is exemplary and the music is characterised to perfection. If the results are ultimately less satisfying than in his later remake with the North German Radio Orchestra, that is down to the recorded ambience more than anything else. Not that anyone buying the present disc would necessarily find cause for complaint. But the sound in the later version does open out more.

The playing of the Cologne Orchestra is dedicated and, when necessary, virtuoso in disciple and attack. Thus the driving (and occasionally subtle) rhythms of the scherzo make a strong impression.

The brass acquit themselves well whenever they must, and though no extra players are involved there is an extra dimension to the final climactic pages. According to the accompanying booklet, the recording sessions were completed in a single day, so all praise to the corporate and individual achievements. The final peroration impresses as the natural resolution of the contrapuntal development which has preceded it; for any performance of this magnificent symphony must by definition be a rousing experience, and this one is precisely that.

Terry Barfoot


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