BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 cond. by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Blu-ray (2014)

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 cond. by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Blu-ray (2014) 

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Studio: RCO Live 14106 [Dist. by Naxos] [9/30/14]
Video: 16×9 1080p/24 HD color
Audio: PCM 2.0 (96/24) or DTS HD-MA 5.0 (96/24)
Subtitles: None
Length: 68 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This is a fine performance of the Bruckner Symphony No. 5 with the last performance of conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It’s a live performance, and the orchestra goes all out to give full measure to the symphony.

The Bruckner Symphony No. 5 was written in 1875-1876 and first performed in 1896. By that time the composer was too sick to attend, so he never heard the full orchestral version, although he had heard the work with two pianos. Sometimes called the ‘tragic’ symphony, it was written during a time in the composer’s life that was filled with stress and setbacks.

The Blu-ray disc looks fine, and it’s well-directed by a score-in-hand producer who finds the soloists at just the right time. From an audio perspective, this disc offers 5.0 DTS surround and the standard two-channel PCM stereo. For the first in a long time, I found myself liking the two channel rendering more than the multi-channel version. I thought the surrounds were mixed quite high, giving me too much ambiance, and sometimes the instruments themselves seemed to be emanating from the back speakers. The two channel version seemed better balanced, without the distractions of the too hot audio surrounds.  [And you can always use a pseudo-surround option, which often gives better surround fields than the 5.0 or 5.1 the disc provides…Ed.]

It’s clear that after a long association, Harnoncourt is comfortable with the orchestra, and the reverse is true. Given Harnoncourt’s age, he is a quite animated conductor. His pacing seems not too deliberate, and the recording and the performance reveal many nice details in the symphony. The performance is aided by the lush venue for the concert, the beautiful Concertgebouw Hall in Amsterdam. While it is nice to view the symphony on this high definition disc, my favorite performance is the Haitink with the Bavarian Symphony.

—Mel Martin

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