Bruckner: Symphony No. 5

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ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner Symphony No. 5
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraNikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 60749 2
Bruckner’s Fifth is perhaps the most


multi-faceted of all his symphonies.

The rich brass writing especially

shows the influence of Wagner;

yet Bach stands behind the finale’s

mighty contrapuntal display, while

the intricate instrumental dialogue

and finely articulated rhythms

proclaim allegiance to Classical

models. Few performances come

close to realising all these aspects,

but Nikolaus Harnoncourt struggles

to do exactly that, at the same time

keeping control over tempo relations

(the first movement Allegro is almost

exactly twice as fast as the slow

introduction, with beneficial effects

on the way the music flows).

Harnoncourt bucks tradition in the

Adagio, opting for a relatively mobile

two-in-a-bar (rather than the familiar

slow four-in-a-bar) so that the complex

cross-rhythms spring to life in new

and often exciting ways. The result is

a lively, compelling account, which

also helps to explain how Bruckner

could have called this monumental

symphony ‘fantastic’, or even ‘cheeky’.

Only rarely do I feel Harnoncourt goes

too far – as in the extra weight he puts

on the harmonies in Adagio’s second

theme. For emotional conviction

and humane overall vision I still

prefer Günter Wand and the Berlin

Philharmonic – a performance that

also seems aware of the music’s Janusfaced

character. But Harnoncourt has made me think hard: how well

have even the greatest interpreters

understood this symphony?

Brucknerians should hear this

recording; Bruckner-agnostics may

well prefer it. And the rehearsal disc

offers illumination even to those who

won’t understand Harnoncourt’s


German. Stephen Johnson