BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5
Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Zander
Telarc CD or SACD 80706 (2 CDs) [69 mins; 80 mins]
I am no Brucknerian but enjoy listening to his symphonies occasionally. We own, treasure, and bring out from time to time, the veteran Bruckner specialist Gunter Wand's precious videoed accounts with the NDR Sinfonieorchester on TDK.
The extra disc is an interesting 80 minutes of Zander's illustrated lecture (longer than the symphony itself). He tells us how his father whilst serving in the 1st World War would take himself off in quieter moments to read to himself his precious score of Bruckner's 5th, silently "performing it" to himself. Later, he urged Benjamin to conduct that particular symphony, which both of them had come to value as one of the greatest masterpieces in the symphonic repertoire, one created in the most surprising and unpropitious circumstances and which the composer himself never heard played.
The lecture is gripping, interesting for Zander's insights, moving for the personal connections with his amazing father, and humbling for its emphasis on large scale structure - the CD comes with a fascinating diagram that maps out the symphony as a virtual Cathedral in Sound. Zander's argument is dependent on key relationships that many of us would have to take on trust, being not blessed with perfect pitch nor a reliable musical memory to follow the modulations which are at the core of the workings of major symphonic creations of the period.
The performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded at Watford Coliseum is splendidly sonorous; you can sample tiny snippets of the performance and the talk HERE. Others will in due course provide comparative reviews of the niceties of tempi etc which engender much discussion amongst Bruckner afficionados, e.g. Steven Ritter.
Peter Grahame Woolf