BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major – Berlin Philharmonic/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Testament

by | Jul 22, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major – Berlin Philharmonic/ Wilhelm Furtwaengler – Testament SBT 1466, 69:00 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:

According to annotator and musicologist Dr. Helge Grunewald (2011), this Testament edition of the 25-28 October 1942 Bruckner Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major with the Berlin Philharmonic and Wilhelm Furtwaengler from the Berlin Der Alte Philhamonie purports to be the definitive instantiation, taken from the original Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg archive with the pitch maintained at the A=440Hz as the international standard held since 1939. All ambient noise and distracting effects have been eliminated. The Bruckner Fifth (1875-1876), often referred to as his “Pizzicato” Symphony, confronts interpreters with its massive contrapuntal design, the first movement itself wrought from three large thematic periods that gravitate between B-flat and G-flat and circuitous harmonic routes between. This symphony ranks among those “boa constrictors” of which Johannes Brahms complained were not symphonies at all but Austrian nightmares.
Yet Wilhelm Furtwaengler’s affinity for this monumental and often majestic work passed through several incarnations, each with its own nobility of line; but here, perhaps because of the wartime and spiritually perverse conditions in Germany at the time, an especial tension rides through the air with a dire force. The piece juxtaposes massive symmetries against asymmetries, particularly in the rhythms. Deep drama and elastic frenzy often combine in the periods; the Scherzo seems several times on the brink of hysteria. Critic Gertrud Runge wrote of the 27 October performance of the “enigmatic” hint apparent in the otherwise “rollicking scherzo,” but I find a grim joy here, indeed. In the last movement, with its occasionally Wagnerian flexions, one can sense an urge to fatigue or resignation that rebels against itself, the chorale sensibility of the mighty Adagio invoked once more to invoke a double-fugued religiosity in the middle of the desert.  Periodically throughout the symphony pregnant pauses precede virtual tornadoes, shattering juggernauts of sound.
The BPO strings and winds project a degree of luminosity rare even for Furtwaengler, who guides us through a series of sonata-form labyrinths with total architectural security. That Bruckner conceived the entire sound-mass as a kind of organ diapason occurs as a natural impulse in Furtwaengler’s layering of texture, particularly in the Finale, which recapitulates most of the motives heard in prior movements. The tender string response to the brass chorale invokes Wagner’s Parsifal for spiritual renewal and consolation. For twenty-two minutes, Furtwaengler supports an evolving mercurial and protean–even molten–mass fraught with the punctuated chorale theme, a kind of Beethoven Ninth finale instrumentally conceived. But whatever the music’s latent message of Humanity therein contained, it fell on politically deaf ears in those dark days in Germany.
–Gary Lemco

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