Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (1873-75) [73:23]
Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young
rec. live, Laeiszhalle, Hamburg, Germany, 2015
Rerviewed in Surround 5.0 OEHMS CLASSICS OC689 SACD [73:23]
Simone Young has now relinquished her roles in Hamburg and is going freelance, according to her website. She will be a loss to the fine Hamburg Philharmonic not least as a superb Brucknerian. This series of recordings of the first versions of every Bruckner symphony has been top class. It was conceived as one of her final recording commitments before departing, and a wonderful finale it is. If one follows this performance with Simpson's study, The Essence of Bruckner, to hand, almost every matter he raises about the structure of this remarkable work shines through. The only, very slight, issue I had was with the broadening of tempo at the very end of the coda when the chorale theme returns. However, listening to Abbado's fine Lucerne recording (Accentus) it was noticeable that his slightly faster tempo actually diminished the impact rather than enhanced it. This is splitting hairs, both are excellent.
What we have on the present disc is a quite magnificent account of Bruckner's most difficult symphony. So clearly does Young present its progress that one is able to follow the unique structure. As an example, the huge opening section of the finale, some 222 bars, during which Bruckner lays out his thematic materials from earlier in the symphony as the basis for the vast polyphonic coda, are all clearly delineated. In Young's hands they do not sound like a set of bits spread before the listener but an ordered laying out of plans. I imagine the practicalities of this involve controlling tempo changes, dynamic contrasts and orchestral balances. The conductor has to first know what she wishes to do with each segment, which involves intensive study of the score, and then conveying this to a responsive orchestra by good baton technique.
The CD has a huge dynamic range, always sounds detailed, clear and spacious in Oehms' excellent recording. The opening of the Fifth is very quiet indeed, fifteen bars of pp string music, a mixture of pizzicato basses and a long-drawn theme, leading to a fortissimo brass outburst like a huge organ. Set the volume to just hear the opening and the brass are very loud indeed. This is expert balancing. Congratulations to engineer Christian Feldgen for a job well done.
The notes by Michael Lewin are typically thorough and raise very interesting points about the symphony as the axis of Bruckner's oeuvre. He also writes of it as the work in which Bruckner proves to a disrespectful world that he is a great symphonist. There is a long tradition of recording the timings of movements in Bruckner: for the record: 1 - 19:56, 2 - 16:59, 3 - 13:02, 4 - 23:23. Glancing at the gigantic listing on the Bruckner Society website showed these to be very standard. The extremes are occupied by Celibidache and Neeme Järvi who manage to differ by about 27 minutes. Even allowing for differing editions this is rather large.