BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat (Nowak Edition) – London Sym. Orch./ Lance Friedel – MSR Classics

Could we be witnessing the birth of a born Brucknerian? Yes, if this recording has anything to say about it.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat (Nowak Edition) – London Sym. Orch./ Lance Friedel – MSR Classics multichannel SACD MS 1600, 73:19 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

Not since 2010, as far as I can tell, has MSR ventured into Super Audio territory. I made a comment back then on their piano disc, the first they offered, that if subsequent issues were like this, then we were in very good hands. Well, listening to Lance Friedel’s Bruckner offering only confirms that assessment.

Friedel, known to me only once previously from a marvelous Nielsen album, has got the measure of this sometimes elusive, yet rather editorially stable Fifth Symphony. Bruckner’s second longest work has been accused of being difficult to hold together, yet if the truth is told it is one of the most successful works of his found on record. Perhaps there are just fewer interpretative decisions to make due to the numerous detailed instructions that the conductor left in the score, maybe partially inspired by a visit to Bayreuth to hear Wagner’s orchestral inklings up close and personal. He seems to have returned with a new vision especially of the brass and woodwinds, and pays much more attention instruction-wise than in any of the previous symphonies.

This is also a very complex work thematically, with links moving across each movement. Yet there do not seem to be as many often jarring episodes which cause so many conductors fits, though the complications of the piece proved irresistibly provocative to early performers and publishers, notably Franz Schalk, who decimated the work in his “reduction”. Friedel takes the piece at face value, and relies heavily on his instinctual sense of balance and warmth to convey the innate tonal shimmer of the work, and allows the fully Brucknerian and traditional concept of “ground up” building blocks of harmonic structure to sway throughout. The soundstage is slightly distant yet exceptionally warm, perhaps a little like Karajan but with better sound than he could ever imagine. The LSO plays beautifully here, majestically when needed, but never losing the silky melodic imaging so important in this work.

If I continue to favor the RCA Harnoncourt with the Vienna Phil. it’s only because of the magnificent ingrained sensibilities that the conductor brings to the score. Yet Friedel is not far behind, and I am not convinced that further listening won’t displace the late, beloved conductor. Let’s hope for a series, and definitely in SACD!

—Steven Ritter

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