WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
PERFORMER: Dresden Staatskapelle/Giuseppe Sinopoli
CATALOGUE NO: 469 527-2
The most positive aspect of this performance is its thoughtfulness. Tempi sound as though they have been chosen with care, the relationships of parts to whole well gauged. The complex cross-rhythms of the slow movement speak more effectively than usual at Sinopoli’s chosen pace; while in the first movement the sense of huge blocks of sound lying side by side is underlined by well contrasted (and strictly maintained) speeds. No sympathetic listener is likely to have much doubt about Bruckner’s greatness as a musical architect after hearing this. But Bruckner was also a Romantic, a Wagnerian and a life-long lover of Schubert, who contrasted his own ‘fiery catholic’ nature to that of the ‘cold protestant’ Brahms.
You won’t find much warmth or Romantic suppleness in Sinopoli’s version. At first the control and evident structural wholeness are impressive, but then the doubts start to pile up. Does the expression have to be so neutral – except in the final choral-apotheosis, where it actually becomes overbearing? And rhythmically the playing often seems deadeningly four-square – a big problem in music which is so much given to rhythmic repetition. For a convincing combination of structural strength with human feeling – and even the odd hint of quirky humour (Bruckner called this his ‘Fantastic’ Symphony) – the Wand/Berlin Philharmonic version beats just about all modern competitors. In comparison this is like an over-restored medieval cathedral – clean, smoothly regular and cold. Stephen Johnson