Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat, WAB 105

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LABELS: BR Klassik
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 in B flat, WAB 105
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio SO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: BR Klassik 900109

It was after listening to the first movement of this symphony that Sir Thomas Beecham, who was no Brucknerian, said ‘I counted five pregnancies and four miscarriages.’ One sees – or hears – what he meant. It can seem, in this perhaps more than any other of Bruckner’s mature symphonies, that there are huge build-ups with, all too often, no clinching climax, until the ear-splitting end of the movements.
That isn’t how it seems here, thanks to Bernard Haitink’s extraordinarily skilful handling of tempo relationships, of accelerandos, and of dynamics. Perhaps the latter are the most important feature of all: Bruckner uses blocks of sound more here than in any other work, and the relative volume of sound is crucial. He is the first composer who used volume as a structural principle, and that can still seem so strange as to make the work almost incomprehensible. He never wrote so original a symphony again.
Fortunately Haitink’s well-nigh perfect grip on the work, and the magnificent playing of the orchestra, make this a memorable experience. The Bavarian brass are quite especially rich and deep in sound, while the strings, compared say with the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics, are rather lean. This mixture is ideal in this work more than the other symphonies, and all told, if this is not the greatest recording, it is equal to any other. The quality of the recording sound is not to be sniffed at either. Michael Tanner