Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (1875/76, rev. 1876/78, 1887 - 1878 Robert Haas version) [69:33]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live, 25-28 October 1942, Alte Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany

Pristine Audio, based in the picturesque village of St. Méard de Gurçon in the Dordogne region of France, is achieving remarkable results with their Natural Sound XR restoration of historic recordings.

In this offering Furtwängler’s is heard conducting the symphony in a programme of live wartime concerts from the Berlin Philharmonic’s cherished home the Alte Philharmonie, Berlin on 25-28 October 1942. Some fifteen months later the hall was destroyed by Allied bombing. For this recording Furtwängler favours the Haas 1878 version which was only published in 1935. With this relatively early wartime account restoration engineer Andrew Rose explains that the tape he had to work with “is one of the best preserved as well as best-made.”

Very much an outsider Bruckner only started to receive the recognition that he deserved in the last years of his life. The composer’s first real public success came with the première in Leipzig of the Symphony No. 7 under Arthur Nikisch. A check on the Bruckner discography shows that the Symphony No. 5 has fared reasonably well in the recording studio. However from my experienced it has made less headway in the concert hall and trails behind the vociferous audience appetite for Nos. 4, 7, 8 and 9. In my copy of ‘The Complete Guide to Classical Music’ edited by David Ewen [Robert Hale, London, 1965] the Bruckner section totally overlooks it. The première was given by Bruckner pupil Franz Schalk in April 1894 at Graz. Sadly, owing to illness, Bruckner was not able to attend. In fact he was never to hear a compete performance of the Fifth.

Furtwängler’s interpretation feels eminently noble with a sense of spaciousness and the Berlin Philharmonic playing quite splendidly. In the opening movement I was struck by the relaxed, sun-filled approach. The tension and weight builds easily to a powerful rather than a shattering climax at the close. Particularly impressive is the granite-like strength brought to the critical Adagio. Commencing with a weary march-like tread from 0:22 the oboe lament does sound a touch vinegary. At 2:29 the closely-recorded strings sound glorious with a strikingly effective brass chorus as the intensity rises. I love the way Furtwängler infuses the Scherzo with the spirit of flowing Tyrolean dance rhythms. With significant assurance the Finale (Adagio) maintains an impressive ebb and flow. Positioned at the very end of the chorale the climax is quite magnificently brought off.

For those looking for a modern version of the Symphony No. 5 I have the utmost regard for Giuseppe Sinopoli’s recording with the Dresden Staatskapelle on Deutsche Grammophon 469 527-2. That live recording was made at the Semperoper, Dresden in 1999; just two years before Sinopoli’s untimely death. Under his inspired conducting the tempi and phrasing feel perfectly judged. With playing of the highest calibre the Dresden brass sound especially full making a dark and threatening roar. Sinopoli’s strings have a glorious timbre the match of anything I’ve heard in this symphony. I loved the assured woodwind playing too. With significant grandeur, power and luminosity Sinopoli’s wonderfully cogent interpretation provides more excitement in the full orchestral passages than in any of the rival versions. On my standard system the DG sound quality approaches demonstration standard.

The perfect solution in Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 is to have this historically significant wartime recording from Furtwängler Pristine together with Sinopoli’s modern digital recording.

Michael Cookson

Spacious and eminently noble … quite splendid playing.