A.Bruckner, Symphony No.5,
C.Thielemann / MPhil
Having taken over from James Levine, Thielemann is expected to carry on the tradition of the orchestra with such Romantic heavyweights as Richard Strauss, Hans Pfitzner, and, of course, Anton Bruckner. The choice of the 5th symphony—no matter what he claims in the interesting liner notes—must have been deliberate. The orchestra premiered the work's original version, Furtwängler chose it as his first work with the orchestra, and the great Bruckner conductor Sergeiu Celibidache, who headed the Munich Philharmonic for 17 years until his death in 1996, inaugurated its new hall, the "Gasteig" in 1985 with Bruckner's 5th.
The Deutsche Grammophon engineers achieved a feat in putting the performance onto one disc (cutting applause and shortening breaks between movements), which is now the longest playing compact disc in their catalogue at 82:34. This is the third longest Bruckner 5th in my collection, topped only by two versions of Celibidache, who takes a whopping 88 and 84 minutes with the same orchestra.
With the history of the players involved and the perfect match of the lush Munich sound with Thielemann's strengths, this was the disc I had most looked forward to receiving, especially after the rave reviews of the concert. But of course anything this highly anticipated has a difficult time to live up to those expectations, and this is no different in that it did not shoot straight to the top of my list.
Some critics and conductors have lamented the fact that Bruckner, Wagner and Mahler have been slowed down continuously over the years, in an ill-conceived attempt to instill extra reverie into those works. There is much to be said about that attitude (especially in Wagner!), but ultimately it still depends on the performance whether an approach works or not. But slowness isn't Thielemann's problem. His approach works and works very well. His problem is that I expected the world from the recording, and he only delivers upper Austria and Bavaria. His problem is: Celibidache.
| A.Bruckner, Symphony No.5, |
Celibidache / MPhil
UK | DE | FR
The second movement's broad melodic element is brought out nicely between 3:04 and 5:15, for once not interrupted by Bruckner with some brass fanfare. It's heaven and whipped cream with the pulsing horns behind the soaring strings, all propelled by the meticulous rhythmical sense of Thielemann, who never lets "slow" become plodding. This disc is surely one of the finest 5ths out there, and since neither Celibidache's nor Wand's discs are easily available in the U.S., only Sinopoli on DG is a serious rival. Conveniently, they are at different ends of the interpretive spectrum and therefore very complimentary. I happen to believe that you can't have too many Bruckner 5ths (I have ten, so far and have heard many others), and this is one of the four best recordings I have ever heard. If it were between adding a second or third Bruckner 5th to your collection over a new discovery, though, I'd strongly encourage the latter.
Note: Celi's Bruckner set on EMI has finally been re-issued. See "Best Recordings of 2011"