Symphony No.5 in B flat [Original Version]
Orchestre National de France
Lovro von Matačíc
Radio France recording of a live performance given in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, on 21 May 1979
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2005
CD No: NAÏVE V 5000
Duration: 77 minutes
Radio station archives can often be a treasure-trove of wonderful things. Whether this particular release achieves such a target will largely depend on each listener. Lovro von Matačíc (who died in 1985 in his mid-eighties) was a notable Bruckner interpreter who officially recorded the Fifth Symphony with the Czech Philharmonic for Supraphon. This ‘appendix’ release finds the conductor using a ‘clean’ text (his Prague recording contains the occasional textural corruption), yet Naïve does not confirm whether this is Robert Haas’s or Leopold Nowak’s edition of Bruckner’s original version, which was completed in 1878 (and confuses the situation further by putting “Vienne, 1894” on the back cover, which is the place and year of the first performance, conducted by Schalk in his own version).
This Paris account is broad, well prepared and conscientiously played, although some slight roughness in the scherzo suggests either unfamiliarity with the music or the occasional uncertain direction on behalf of Matačíc himself, and passages as the finale’s fugue need to be more effortlessly dispatched. (The Orchestra’s a little untidy, too; listen out for an impromptu pizzicato at 3’08” in the first movement; quite amusing!)
Overall, Matačíc’s way with the music is decidedly sectional – imposing in the slow introduction, energised for the first subject of the Allegro and then sitting-down heavily for the second one before spurting off again; come the first-movement coda, Matačíc sprints to the finishing post. Overall this is a slightly curious mix of impulse and being consciously well behaved; if not one-dimensional, Matačíc rarely gets to three, although his rich, sonorous, very stately way with the broad melody in the Adagio is certainly effective – save that the violins are tonally a little bleached (more anon on sound quality) – and although the recording is clear enough the brass is forward, edgy and lacks warmth. This interesting performance closes with a massive peroration, somewhat forced: it will seem either tacked-on or thrilling.
However, the merits of choosing this performance for posterity are overshadowed by the way the radio tape has been re-mastered. Allowing the brass is prominent and the acoustic has an after-sting to it, these two factors are part of the origin, but Jean-François Pontefract’s re-mastering leaves something to be desired. In over-processing to eliminate hiss, Pontefract cues the ‘usual’ concomitant of such action – slightly veiled timbres in bass and mid passages when mezzo-forte and below. There are far worse examples around than here, but the ‘dark to light’ timbres that occur in the dynamic and tonal ranges just cited are noticeable and distracting. The finest transfer engineers, who really listen to what they produce, avoid such tainting; Pontefract could have done a worse job in this respect, but he could also have done a better one. Try the opening of the scherzo; as well as a crescendo, the sound emerges out of (relative and processed) darkness to timbres that are natural. There are numerous such ‘dark’ spots here – in bass pizzicatos and particular string registers; it’s about how such elements fall on either side of the computation; those that are below sound impure, literally.