Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 (1878 version)

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COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner Symphony No. 5
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 (1878 version)
PERFORMER: Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Christian Thielemann
CATALOGUE NO: 477 5377
Even now, with fairly frequent performances and many recordings in the catalogue, Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony remains a very hard nut to crack, for conductors and listeners. It alternates a curious tentativeness with monumentality, and in the gigantic last movement attempts to, perhaps succeeds in, fusing these sharply contrasting conditions. The finest accounts of it leave one, until the grandeur of the closing pages, in indecision about what the upshot of Bruckner’s most restless work will be.

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Thielemann’s debut recording with the Munich Philharmonic is shocking in its literalness. The orchestra plays mostly magnificently in this ‘live’ recording, though the brass is often required to take volume to the limit – a Thielemann trademark. The strings play with great sweetness and sometimes, as in the glorious second subject of the slow movement, extreme richness of tone. Every bar is played for all its worth, but often I had the feeling that the conductor wasn’t interested in what was coming next, so that the effect becomes like gorging oneself on a box of chocolates, with no consideration of how one might feel when the last one has been consumed. This is reminiscent of Karajan in his final phase, when the only kind of beauty he was interested in was that of sheer sound. It makes for wearying listening, with no sense whatever of growth or resolution. Wand’s account gives full weight to all aspects of this curious work, Thielemann’s is merely heavy. Michael Tanner