ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner
WORKS: Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young
CATALOGUE NO: OC 689 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The number of fresh releases of Bruckner symphonies verges on the incredible. Here is what many people, including me until recently, regard as his most recalcitrant work in its fourth or fifth new recording this year. When you finally ‘get’ the Fifth, as I think I have, it is so overwhelming that any adequate account of it has you reaching for superlatives. But I think this new one, in Simone Young’s complete series, is probably the finest new performance (it’s a live performance, though there are no extraneous sounds) I’ve heard for a long time.
Anyone who still talks nonsense about Bruckner writing the same symphony nine times should listen to this. The first movement, taking Bruckner’s stop-go procedures to their limits, is startlingly original, and was never repeated. Young manages the rare feat of honouring all Bruckner’s changes of gear and tempo while keeping a powerful forward flow, so that at last I am convinced that the movement is a complete success. The middle two movements are comparatively straightforward – the sound of the Hamburg Philharmonic, with its long distinguished record of Bruckner performing, is notably lean in the slow movement, and convincingly so, while the last, which Furtwängler described as the most monumental in symphonic literature, is as always exhausting but elating too. With its multiple themes, its two fugues, one on a single theme, the other a double fugue, and its blazing chorales, it’s tempting to listen to it separately. No doubt I shall listen to other accounts which are as fine, but for the moment I find that hard to believe. Michael Tanner