BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 (1998)

by | Jan 31, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 (1998)

Günter Wand conducting the NDR Symphony Orchestra
at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival
Studio: NDR/TDK (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 color, no region code
Audio: PCM stereo
Length: 82 minutes
Rating: ****

Wand, who died in 2002, was one of the primary Bruckner specialists of the last century, and this is part of a series of the composer’s symphonies under Wand’s baton which TDK is currently issuing. They will make an interesting companion to the series of the complete Bruckner symphonies he recorded on BMG CDs. Wand was rigorous in his adherence to the composer’s original thoughts and was partial to the original versions of most of the symphonies. (This performance uses the Robert Haas Edition, which is based on the autograph sources.)

The Fifth is considered the most Beethovenian of all Bruckner’s symphonies in its strict thematic development. But its massive block-like structure is a whole different architectural approach from Beethoven. The day prior to viewing this DVD I had attended a concert which included a work by the contemporary avantgarde composer John Zorn, who writes short musical ideas on file cards and then shuffles them to end up with his composition. During some of the pauses between the giant blocks of Bruckner’s symphonic structure I couldn’t help thinking of Zorn’s work shifting gears, so to speak, between sections. Of course there is a very strong and identifiable harmonic and rhythmic style to all of Bruckner’s blocks, while Zorn’s are wildly different from one another. In fact the symmetrically of the four movements of Bruckner’s work and the interrelationships of the various themes all flow in an inexorable pattern of repetitions that seems to presage the current style of minimalist composers. Mozart may have known exactly how many times to repeat something before overextending the listener’s patience, but Bruckner forges ahead way beyond that point in his steadfast religious fervor and makes us accept it. (Some might say Or Else…is that Germanic or not?)

I was surprised how reserved Wand’s conducting movements were in the first three movements of the Symphony.  He reminded me of the footage of Richard Strauss in the Philips DVD of Great Conductors. Aside from maintaining a subtle beat, he seemed to mostly hush down passages in some orchestral sections that he found a bit too loud. However, in the Finale he becomes much more active, shaping the rousing climactic buildup of all the musical blocks that the composer has been playing with earlier in the lengthy work.

On the face of it committing an entire Bruckner symphony to a watchable video presentation would seem to be almost a thankless task. There is no soloist, not even any special solos from the first chairs of some of the sections.  The work has a certain sameness of tone and mood throughout.  But with the excellent videography and 48K stereo I found it a compelling visual concert.  The sonics were clearly better than the complete Bruckner Symphonies set on Philips by Haitink, and about equal to most of the BMG Wand CDs.  They decoded very well via ProLogic II – Bruckner and Mahler just seem to require surround sound! I don’t know how many cameras were used, but the shots always seem to be appropriate to the music, and alternate pleasingly between extreme closeups and long shots of the orchestra and hall – a very impressive space with an extremely high ceiling.

– John Sunier

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