Edinburgh International Festival – Bruckner 5

Symphony No.5 in B flat

Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra
Ingo Metzmacher

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 24 August, 2006
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh

There is a danger in such invigorating Festival concert-planning as this – with symphony cycles (Beethoven at 5.30 and Bruckner at 9.30) flanking separately programmed concerts (at 7.30) – that one performance might be so fantastic that it skews your view of the following event.

That may have happened to me following the superlative concert of Strauss’s Josephslegende conducted by Iván Fischer. Returning to the Usher Hall for this performance of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony, given by the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under guest-conductor Ingo Metzmacher (although as music director of Netherlands Opera he gets to conduct this orchestra – and also the Royal Concertgebouw – for various productions), I was amazed at how small the orchestra was (or seemed) – Bruckner’s prescribed single woodwinds (i.e. one player to each part) being observed – especially after the extravagances of the Strauss.

Not that the body of sound was anything than fully nourished and, at first, I was rather taken by Metzmacher’s natural way with the tricky Brucknerian pauses in the first movement and his unobtrusive way of bringing out the triple and duple rhythms against each other at the opening of the Adagio. But things started to go awry and from then on Metzmacher’s approach lost cohesion, to the extent that his wiggling hips to bring in the various fugal elements of the great finale seemed not simply fatuous but actually insulting.

How it will come over on BBC Radio 3’s broadcast (scheduled for 19 September) remains to be heard, but in the hall the musical edifice began to unwind and even the closing peroration couldn’t pull me back from a sense of deep disappointment. The orchestra for the most part played well for Metzmacher (an ugly brass entry at the start notwithstanding), but it was the meaning behind the notes that seemed to be totally lacking. There was no nobility and no heart – just an attempt at a jaunty fugue, which fell flat on its face.

A desperate, depressing dud, regrettably.

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