Bruckner: Symphony No. 5

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WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Claudio Abbado
Nothing was going right for Bruckner at the time he was writing his Fifth Symphony in 1875. He was hopelessly in debt, and the now popular Fourth Symphony had been rejected by the orchestra featured on this disc (the Vienna Philharmonic), after a disastrous rendition of the Third under the unwise direction of Bruckner himself. And yet out of this unremitting gloom (‘All the joy and pleasure have gone out of my life; it seems utterly pointless and futile’) he was able to write his Fifth Symphony, a monumental structure combining the hugeness of symphonic architecture with complex contrapuntal writing (he was a superb technician in such matters after years of assiduous study). It took him three years to produce a version with which he was satisfied, but it lay unplayed until 1894, when a drastically revised version by his admirer, the conductor Franz Schalk, was performed. Schalk’s motives may have been altruistic but he did Bruckner no service. Fortunately, we hear no more of it; instead Nowak’s edition of the original version is the received wisdom and Abbado uses this one in this excellent live performance. He and his players ably present the ruggedness of the first movement, the lyrical bleakness of the Adagio, the fleetness of the Scherzo, and above all the intricate contrapuntal details of the finale. Christopher Fifield