Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in B flat
PERFORMER: BBC SO/Jascha Horenstein
Of all the sins for which the record industry will have to atone on the Day of Judgement, not the least will be its neglect of Jascha Horenstein. As this and other BBC Archive-derived discs have shown, Horenstein was simply one of the finest Bruckner and Mahler interpreters in recorded history. This Bruckner Five, taken from a 1971 Promenade Concert, has everything a great Bruckner performance needs: architectural grandeur; the sense of inevitable background current without which the music meanders or fragments; plus warm, human intimacy – even humour. The playing may not be absolutely of the highest quality, nor is the dull-toned recording (with occasional intrusive coughing and rustling from the audience), but when it comes to expression, suppleness, alertness, power, the BBC Symphony Orchestra could hardly give more for Horenstein. Who cares if the sound lacks Karajan’s glamour; from the hushed, spacious opening, to the great chorale-apotheosis at the end, this is a performance that charts a spiritual journey – a journey full of surprises (not for nothing did Bruckner nickname this symphony ‘Fantastic’), but one which ends with all the threads seemingly coming together in a single strand. Many of Bruckner’s symphonies end in ecstatic radiance, but Horenstein made me wonder if this isn’t, ultimately, Bruckner’s most profoundly positive symphony – certainly, a performance to lift the heart. Stephen Johnson