Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Hague Residentie Orchestra/Neeme Järvi


My score of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 has a statement at the start: ‘Duration: 80 minutes’. Actually I have only heard one conductor, Celibidache, take that long over the work. Normally performance are somewhere in the 70s, and the fastest I had come across was Furtwängler at 68 minutes.

But this new recording is 62, which is strikingly rapid. One of the odd features of it is that the great slow movement is shorter here than the Scherzo which follows it. The outer movements are brisker than usual, but not much.

But the second movement is one of Bruckner’s great adagios, yet here it sounds as if it were marked andante. And its slow cumulative power is not achievable at this speed, superbly though The Hague Residentie Orchestra plays it.

In the first three movements Neeme Järvi indulges in fluctuations of tempo that are most unusual these days, though they might well be what Bruckner would have expected. It’s hard to know: this is an endlessly perplexing work, though clearly a great one.

Bruckner delights in having themes of sharply contrasting speeds in the first movement, and if the conductor then imposes his own variations of tempo it becomes still harder to tell what its structure is.


Yet in the monumental last movement, which combines massive fugues with a chorale theme and other disparate elements, Järvi is relatively dogged. I think that listeners unfamiliar with the work would be more bewildered than they need be. Michael Tanner