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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.5 in B flat WAB 105 edited Haas (1935) and Nowak (1951 and 1989; revisions 1985)
Excerpts from the rehearsals
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Recorded in the Musikverein, Vienna, 7-14th June, 2004
RCA RED SEAL 82876 60749 2 [73.08 + 74.49]



One of the most commendable and important features of this recording is textual. The 1935 Haas edition was of course revised by Nowak and has been re-edited since. But as the detailed booklet explains, corrections made by the composer in a copy (undated) in the National Library in Vienna provide further authorial endorsement to the edition prepared for this recording. All the additions and editing decisions will become part of the Complete Bruckner Edition. In the light of these revisions, small but apparently numerous, we can place Harnoncourt’s new recording, part of his cycle for the BMG group.

He has been accorded sumptuous sound. The VPO burns with translucent power and sensitivity; strings burnished but restrained, never a voluptuary sound. Similarly Harnoncourt gives rein to the brass perorations, driving material with authority (as the rehearsal extracts on the second disc plainly show). That said I would advise those of you with neighbours – that is those not living in a castle or a mountain lodge – to exercise great care. The dynamics are extremely wide - from the merest whisper of a pianissimo (the start of the symphony is inaudible to normal hearing) to blaring fortissimo. In practical terms it’s actually quite difficult to find reasonable level at which to listen. The performance itself is one of contrasts and, as one would expect from Harnoncourt, a certain revisionist spirit. Control of structural peaks and troughs is there; moments of crisis and resolution there as well. The slow movement is brisk, hewing closer to the Wand-Haitink axis than the classic Karajan (who at twenty minutes is five minutes slower than Harnoncourt). Those who might expect a warm bath might find instead, if not a cold shower, at least a lukewarm temperature for all the power and forthright direction. The Scherzo troubled me most. The dynamics are at their widest here and the sense of contrast at its most palpable but Harnoncourt seems obsessed with a kind of stop-start motion that sounds very mannered. The abrupt conjunctions may indeed be his point but it sounds, instead, just point making, as does (to a lesser degree) the galumphing quality with which he vests the finale, though the fugal section is powerfully etched.

The companion disc offers extensive rehearsal sequences. These are doubtless valuable for points of balance and matters of interpretation but they offer little concrete that the recording doesn’t. That by the way is live but the audience is supernaturally quiet. Documentation is splendidly thorough and matters of textual editions and associated scholarship prove enlightening. Many will welcome Harnoncourt’s leaner and more jittery Bruckner 5 but it felt to me like a case of too many side chapels and not enough cathedral.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Terry Barfoot



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