Symphony No.5 in B flat
Residentie Orchestra The Hague
Recorded 17-19 September 2009 in Dr Anton Philipszaal, The Hague, The Netherlands
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: April 2010
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5080
Duration: 62 minutes
If sound quality were the sole criterion for assessing this disc, it would rank as one of the finest Bruckner symphony recordings in the catalogue. Whether played as a CD or as an SACD, the recording presents the orchestra with remarkable transparency and spaciousness in the context of an acoustic that has an ideal amount of resonance for Bruckner’s music.
The Residentie Orchestra might not be as renowned as the Royal Concertgebouw in terms of Bruckner performance, but nevertheless it has a tradition of performing the composer’s works under conductors such as Willem van Otterloo, Hans Vonk and Jaap van Zweden. The brass playing here is particularly fine, with a combination of weight and refinement that is particularly suited to the Fifth Symphony. The first horn occasionally overdoes the vibrato (an example being the start of the trio), but this is not overly significant.
What is significant, however, is Neeme Järvi’s pacing of much of the symphony. At 11’15”, this is a remarkably swift performance of the Adagio, considerably shorter than the 16- to 18-minute range typically found elsewhere and only half the 20-plus minutes taken by Karajan, Solti and Celibidache. Järvi maintains his opening tempo of minim=36 almost the entire way through the movement, dropping to minim=30 only for the final section where the opening melody returns with a rapid sextuplet decoration in the violins. This is a long way from the concept of a Bruckner slow movement that Neville Cardus had in mind when he wrote: “A real adagio is a meditation along labyrinthine ways; and it must sound with a spaciousness of harmony, and the melody must be broad and unhurried.” There are times when Järvi’s approach brings a sense of fervour to the hymn-like melodies, a sense of Bruckner the faithful pilgrim impatient to commune with God, but too often the performance sounds rushed, and lacks mystery, poise and depth.
Although not as extreme, the outer movements are also driven along at a fair pace. The first movement can take this to some extent, but Järvi’s tempo does nothing to illuminate the mastery and imagination of Bruckner’s contrapuntal argument in the finale, nor communicate the grandeur of the coda. The scherzo is the only movement whose tempo could be described as mainstream. It is also the most successful movement interpretatively, the orchestral contribution raucous and rustic in equal measure, the trio rich in detail. A single recommendable movement does not make for a competitive symphonic release, however, no matter how good the sound quality.