Symphony No.5 in B flat [Original Version]
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded in October 2004 in the Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2005
CD No: DG 477 5377
Duration: 83 minutes
Thus Christian Thielemann’s Munich Philharmonic tenure is launched – and, with it, the playing-time of CDs is extended; this one plays for 82’36”.
This is a rich, sonorous account. Maybe the brass is too loud; perhaps Thielemann exults too easily. Yet for all the burnished majesty (or attempts at it) there is also much delicacy and chamber-music observations. As Thielemann remarks in his own booklet note … well, what does he observe? He is certainly self-aware and, as he says, if there is a Protestant way of conducting Bruckner, then maybe he embodies it. (He’s not a Catholic.) He talks about slowness … but that’s relative. (Celibidache in Bruckner 5 in Munich takes longer, on EMI, and yet he never seems slow – whatever that term, pejorative in a Celibidachian context, actually means.) Let the music speak for itself. Thielemann can’t quite do this; he is quite strict, the direction of the music is imposed on from external forces – the conductor; ‘significant’ moments are sign-posted. Progress becomes static. Thielemann has the advantage of antiphonal violins (double basses on the left) and a seasoned Bruckner orchestra in the Munich Philharmonic (Thielemann acknowledges this in his note – the only note; therefore first-time buyers are deprived a ‘proper’ essay on the music).
The first movement is something of a trial, and the Adagio is just as massive; at least its seems to have somewhere to go; long lines carry more charge, and expression has linear direction; even so, Thielemann cannot let the music off the leash. The final climaxes don’t ‘burn’ as they should, partly because textures are rather homogenised and the recording is not the most dynamically expansive. The scherzo dances heavily, too emphatically, and Thielemann can’t resist tweaking some phase ends; here and elsewhere the Munich strings tend to simper, presumably by design, and they’re a bit thin-sounding, too.
And so to the vast finale; even the clarinet’s Till Eulenspiegel-like interruption is ‘worked out’, and the fugal writing is made rather pedestrian. And so on. Overall: too heavy and dragging, and too calculated.
The recording quality disappoints and reverberation clouds the issue, literally, with fortissimos having an edgy quality as well as being a tad woolly (‘hollow’ comes to mind, too). The sound is cleaner, more tangible, at lower dynamics: yet the strings can sound mushy.
Thielemann has done some good things – his DG Heldenleben comes to mind – but this Bruckner is something of a marmoreal offering and one difficult to return to. Maybe it was too early for DG to send the microphones to Munich.