Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat

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COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Accentus Music
ALBUM TITLE: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
PERFORMER: Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 202175

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This release is drawn from the astounding marathon of six Bruckner performances that Daniel Barenboim conducted in just over a week at the Philharmonie Berlin in June 2010.
The Fifth is possibly the most taxing of all Bruckner’s Symphonies, not least for requiring performers to unlock seemingly inexhaustible reserves of stamina to sustain the musical argument over such a huge time-span. Yet the Berlin Staatskapelle rises to the challenge magnificently. Quite simply the playing is awesome, not just in terms of its technical excellence, but also in the great subtlety of nuance and tonal variety that is projected in every passage, and perfectly blended ensemble at the climaxes. The orchestra’s dynamic range is equally impressive, the hushed otherworldly pianissimos at the opening of the first movement providing a stark contrast to the sudden explosion of power that is unleashed in the ensuing unison passage. A similar sense of mystery
is achieved at the opening of the Finale, in stark contrast to the great fugue subject enunciated with unparalleled vehemence by cellos
and double basses.

Barenboim’s extremely detailed interpretation is unashamedly theatrical in conception. He doesn’t shirk from the opportunity to whip up the emotional temperature at moments of greatest intensity, and the pacing overall has a wonderful sense of fluidity. Other conductors, such as Günter Wand, are more stoical, and achieve a greater sense of symphonic cohesion without recourse to such widely fluctuating tempos. Nonetheless, it’s easy to understand the audience’s wild enthusiasm at the close, the sheer majesty of the coda, where Barenboim audaciously doubles the brass and timpani, can only be described as breathtaking. The camera work and production offer nothing that distracts from the musical experience, though it would have been great to have been given a brief snapshot of Barenboim rehearsing the work.

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Erik Levi