BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 – Simone Young / Hamburg Philharmonic – Oehms Classics
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 – Simone Young / Hamburg Philharmonic – Oehms Classics

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 – Simone Young / Hamburg Philharmonic – Oehms Classics multichannel SACD OC 689 (8/14/15), 73:23 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 – Simone Young / Hamburg Philharmonic – Oehms Classics multichannel SACD OC 693 (7/10/15), 59:01 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Two terrific Bruckner symphony recordings in hi-res surround.

There are so many recordings of the Bruckner symphonies, that a person deciding on a particular recording has quite a task. There are excellent performances with fine recordings by Karajan, Wand, Bochum and others.

I’ve just listened to two SACDs, one of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 and the Symphony No. 9 on the Oehms label conducted by Simone Young with the Hamburg Philharmonic, and I think these recordings are game-changers.

Maestro Young has been recording a series of the Bruckner symphonies in their original, rather than their final versions. She left the 5th Symphony for last, as it is so different from the Bruckner cycle in terms of style. For Bruckner it was a new start from the 4th Symphony, and the 6th was a return to his more traditional style. The 5th is not performed as often as most of the others, as it is considered a bit of a monolith, worlds apart from the rest of his symphonic output.

That being said, this recording of the 5th in its 1878 version is a revelation. As I listened, I knew I was hearing subtleties of the work for the first time. Tempi are different, and not what a Bruckner listener might expect, but these changes are all very natural in the context of the whole recording.

The sound on the SACD is very realistic, perhaps one of the best orchestral recordings I have ever heard. There is a wide soundstage, and the strings never sound shrill or exaggerated. The whole blend of the orchestra sounds very close to what I hear in the best live performances, and that is no small accomplishment. One forgets about the ‘recording’ and settles in to listen to the music.

The Bruckner Symphony No. 9 is justly famous for the beauty of the composition and the fact that it is the last work of the composer. Bruckner was conscious of the fact that he was nearing the end of his prolific musical contributions, and like Beethoven wrote the symphony in d minor. It’s a three- movement work, with the 4th unfinished, although sketches remain and there have been various attempts to finish it. Simone Young and the Hamburg Philharmonic end traditionally with the Adagio, the 3rd and last moment completed.

Here again, we have an absolutely beautiful recording. As in the Symphony No. 5, the orchestral sound is nearly perfect to my ear, sounding like real instruments in an acoustically rich hall. The surround channels are a bit elevated in volume, emphasizing the effect. It’s a marvelous listen.

I haven’t heard the other recordings in this series, but I’ll purchase them to have a complete set. Some will prefer later versions of these symphonies, but the originals presented here are going to set the standard for many listeners. Coupled with such excellent live recordings without a trace of audience noise, these SACD/CDs are really a treasure. Recommended!

—Mel Martin

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