Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - Blomstedt
Classical - Orchestral
Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major
Herbert Blomstedt (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - November 30, 2012
Over the years, I have heard many accounts of this stunning work from many of the greatest Brucknerian's of the time. This includes Haitink both on disc and in concert with the VPO and on SACD (Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - Haitink: Haitink here seems uncharacteristically not to be on his best form, missing the exhilaration that the best accounts find in the closing pages), Wand on SACD (Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - Wand: very good but stereo-only and blighted by congested sound), Karajan on disc (majestic but other-worldly conception - still peerless in many respects but perhaps not an "everyday" choice and very sadly not on SA-CD), Abbado in concert with Berlin & Lucerne (until recently my first choice for a non-Karajan style rendition but not on SA-CD sadly). I have also enjoyed accounts on SA-CD from Harnoncourt (Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - Harnoncourt) and Janowski (Bruckner: Symphony No. 5 - Janowski) - this account equals or surpasses all, especially sonically.
Unlike previous instalments of the cycle, there is no introductory applause; the resonant pizzicato scale emerges out of a murky silence, is wrapped in smooth upper strings that mark the various expressive points with care before the first towering climaxes for full orchestra leap out of the speakers. Every gradation in dynamic is carefully planned by Blomstedt so that one line flows to another almost seamlessly. The tempo choices and transitions are managed so that the pulse appears unbroken - most great accounts of this work achieve this - and so, although the allegro is in no danger of becoming of frenzied, the orchestra has space to let the most intricate of passages to breathe whilst keeping a true alla breve pulse intact. Throughout the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig sounds as though it is moving as one gigantic organism that is playing as if their lives depended on the performance, even when the strings are hushed and the woodwind have critical but fragmented thematic material.
In terms of tempo choices in each movement, Blomstedt is (without any disparagement connotations implied) "middle of the road" meaning that he neither tries at aggrandise already majestic compositional structures nor diminish them by speeding over all a myriad of detail. Everything just sounds "right" and his decision to divide violins leads to some electrifying sequences as the music builds to climaxes. Equally impressive are the sonorities of the orchestra - they are solid, rich and glowing but never so titanic that it threatens to become overwhelming to the acoustic in which they play or the listener. These qualities come to the fore in the slow movement, especially in the string tutti passages that follow the opening theme. A constant sense of inevitability permeates this account and for all the weight passage work, the wind and strings provide endless deft touches that quite delight the ear.
Differently but in similar vein of mood, Blomstedt manages to weld the lightness of the Landler-like passages of the Scherzo with the more full-blooded tutti passages without incongruity of sonority, in large part due to the Gewandhausorchester's ability to musically turn on a penny! Just as in the opening movement, Blomstedt repeats the trick of having one pulse throughout the fluctuating tempos preceding the fugal writing (where the strings delight in the interplay the fugue produces). In each successive chorale, the brass become ever more resplendent, encouraged by their colleagues who provide a sonic wave for their metallic colleagues to ride upon. Although there is never a feeling of being held back in climaxes, there is absolutely no vulgarity from any player or section. Indeed, the final chorale exudes the thrilling feeling of witnessing a tremendous athletic feat - that the audience managed not to immediately erupt in deserved adulation is remarkable (the applause phobic have about 1s to hit the stop button).
The sound too is marvellous and fully worthy of the playing - totally honest in dynamics (a wonderfully wide range), timbre (few Bruckner recordings have sounded so faithful) and atmosphere (best seats in the house, no congestion or other artefacts).
Copyright © 2012 John Broggio and HRAudio.net