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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major (1878, ed. Nowak)
Sinfonie Orchester des Südwestfunk Baden-Baden/Hans Rosbaud
rec. live, 21 October 1953, Baden-Baden. ADD Mono

Hans Rosbaud was the first chief conductor of the SWF (later, SWR) orchestra from its foundation in 1948. He was highly versatile in repertoire but especially committed to performing Mahler and Bruckner and had almost completed the first recorded cycle of the latter’s symphonies on his death in 1962.

There is some faint pre-echo in the tape and the sound, although remastered, remains decidedly tubby and opaque; it seems to deteriorate somewhat as the performance progresses, too. I have heard much better contemporary live recordings and comparison with, for example, Knappertsbusch’s live performance of the Fourth from 1944, also from Baden-Baden, is very much in Kna’s favour. In truth, were it not for the interest of hearing a conductor largely neglected I would not recommend this to any but the die-hard collector of historical Bruckner recordings.

I am in general an admirer of Rosbaud’s work, relatively scant as his legacy is, so welcomed and expected to enjoy this “previously unpublished” recording, but his approach to the score here strikes me as dutiful, if not rather dull. This indicates a respect for the score but also a lack of inspiration. In truth, I found the Adagio a tad plodding. The Scherzo is nicely paced and varied; the rambling finale unfolds neatly, with Rosbaud emphasising the clarity of instrumental lines over passion and a certain cool constraint robs the fugal passage of fervour. The standard of orchestral execution is more than acceptable, although it is hard to tell if the shrillness of the strings and harshness in the brass tone is a result of the sound or of their playing. I experience no particular excitement or insight in Rosbaud’s direction and could name a dozen recordings which bring the listener closer to experiencing the full impact of this symphony.

Ralph Moore