BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (original version) – Munich Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann – DGG

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (original version) –
Munich Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann – DGG 477 5377, 82:34 ****:

So it is possible to get over 80 minutes on a CD today. Good,
because it would have been unnerving to have to break and change discs
for the last movement of this massive work.  Actually, a competing
version on Red Seal by one of my favorite Bruckner interpreters, Günter
Wand, fits on a single CD because it only totals 77 minutes. It appears
that most of that time is shaved off by Wand either making cuts or
taking the Adagio movement that much faster than Thielemann.

The Munich Philharmonic has been enthusiastically performing Bruckner’s
works since 1893 – recently under the batons of both Celibidache and
Wand.  The orchestra’s new conductor – replacing James Levine –
selected this Bruckner symphony for his inaugural concert, continuing
the band’s long tradition with it. Thielemann seems to have a
refreshing view of his place vis a vis Bruckner interpretation. He says
if as a young conductor you listened to all the voices of the great
conductors connected with the music over the years you would hardly
ever pick up a baton again. He questions the oft-mentioned “Catholic
quality” of the Bruckner symphonies and says they do not stand for
something sacred. He attributes that idea primarily to the fact that
the composer translated the sounds of his beloved pipe organ into the
orchestra.  He says he seeks to emphasize the effects of “layers,”
as equaling the changes of register that an organist must select on his
instrument. Thielemann tries to bring “a very Protestant clarity and
rigour” to his Bruckner.

The recording was made during a live concert (as was Wand’s). 
There is greater clarity and transparency in the Thielemann recording,
and though one needs to shift gears into a slower rhythm for Bruckner
(as with Mahler) the Thielemann version seems to have more momentum and
forward flow. And this in spite of being five minutes longer
overall.  My only hesitation is the opaque character the complex
climaxes of the music take on at the 44.1 sampling rate.  Perhaps
this one will also eventually be reissued in SACD format, which should
remedy that.

– John Sunier

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