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Bruckner sym5 OSBR38006

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, WAB 105 (Original version; ed. Nowak 1878)
Tokyo City Philharmonic Orchestra/Ken Takaseki
rec. live, 16 June 2021, Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall

My previous review of the release of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony from the same provenance as here was less than complimentary so I hoped for better with this one. My complaints regarding that recording centred on the conductor’s intrusive groaning, faulty intonation and a general lack of tension; I find myself more favourably disposed towards this performance, and even if the conductor’s tendency to singalong is still intermittently in evidence, especially in the second movement, its prevalence is somewhat reduced.

Takaseki’s tempi are relatively swift compared with my own favourite recordings by such as Eichhorn, Karajan and Sieghart; this is a straightforward account which hardly aspires to transcendence but delivers the music honestly. The pizzicato passages of the first movement are neatly co-ordinated, dynamics aptly shaded, and there is decidedly a more numinous sense about proceedings here than there was in the Eighth – which matters, as this is surely the other of Bruckner’s symphonies which most shares in the Eighth’s cosmic grandeur. There is still the occasional minor flaw in the brass playing but that is forgivable in a live recording. The restatement of the main theme two thirds of the way through gathers an impressive, cumulative power and the last three minutes of the movement unfold with unerring confidence and propulsion, but the coda loses somewhat in impact.

The Adagio is initially more problematic, as Takaseki’s opening pulse seems to be approaching more of an Andantino but the big tune unfurls nobly. Unfortunately, it is very audibly punctuated by the conductor’s vocalise; I cannot stress how irksome I find this increasingly common habit to be – a problem which is of course exacerbated by the forensic clarity of modern digital sound. Otherwise, this is again a faithful, if uninspired, rendition and the brass interjections towards the conclusion are somewhat crude and blaring.

The tripartite Scherzo is goes well enough, the frantic, pounding first theme being neatly contrasted with the lilting village dance of the second, while the trio has an appealing lightness about it - but then, as I never tire of observing, it is hard to make a mess of a Bruckner Scherzo. There is a sense of unfussy purpose about the finale, too; it is given a purposeful, cohesive sense of direction, underlined by some assertive string and brass playing backed up by agreeably prominent timpani. A fair amount of raw excitement is generated in the closing pages, even if there also some of the wrong kind of rawness in the intonation of the strings and flutes – and more of Takaseki’s superfluous contribution.

There is virtually no audience noise and balances are ideal. Applause is included after a decent interval. In brief, while there is nothing – apart, perhaps from the conductor’s vocal obbligato – objectionable about this performance, nor is it in any sense especially distinctive or memorable

Ralph Moore
(This review reproduced here, in slightly modified form, by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal.)

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