SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat – Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Marek Janowski, conductor – Pentatone

Terrific Bruckner from a very unexpected source.

Published on March 31, 2010

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat – Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Marek Janowski, conductor – Pentatone

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B-flat – Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Marek Janowski, conductor – Pentatone 5186 351, 73:54 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Wow. This is not your parent’s Suisse Romande Orchestra, and it definitely was not Ernest Ansermet’s who perhaps could only dream of technical finesse and slick playing like this. These guys and gals have developed Bruckner biceps, though the notes indicate that Bruckner has been a large part of the orchestra’s repertory spanning a number of years and five different conductors.

But it takes a lot to formulate an organ-like brass section that can maintain his blockbuster harmonies and strings and winds with the tonal control to perpetuate his linear and sometimes brutally exposed lines. In the Fifth symphony this is even more difficult to achieve as the sometimes ten-part counterpoint and exceptionally slow tempo adjustments place great demands on the players. If an orchestra is going to meet its Waterloo in Bruckner, this is the symphony where it will happen. But the Swiss hold their own and even scale the parapets in order to prove their mastery of this work, commander Janowski leading a measured and exciting charge that can rank up there with the best.

“Best” of course can be hard to determine in this work, which is odd since it is one of the few to have had only one edition, worked on occasionally for a couple of years after its creation by the composer, aside from what many think of as the bastardized Schalk version. I happen to love Schalk, especially when put forth in such a classic recording as the Decca Knappertsbusch. But I admit to the perversion. I also like the Telarc Zander, done right before they were sold to a company that then sold SACD down the river, and of course the relatively new Harnoncourt with the Vienna Phil has much to offer. Older recordings like Klemperer still have their fans, though I am not one of them. I think the newbies can rank with the best of yesteryear, and that includes any of the horrid-sounding oldies by Furtwangler.

If there is a weakness in this reading it would occur in the first movement, where Janowski seem a little tentative in where the glue should go to hold together the various strands of tempo changes. It is diffuse and hard to do, where Zander and Harnoncourt are more effective. But Janowski does have a vision for this piece, and builds beautifully to the culminating finale, which is where it all heads anyway, perhaps more than in any other Bruckner work.

It’s Pentatone, so you can assume (correctly) that the surround sound is spectacular—I doubt Bruckner has ever been given this kind of treatment. Everyone will rejoice in this release, and audiophiles will have to have it.

– Steven Ritter




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