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Botstein: Bruckner – Symphony no.5 (APE)

Botstein: Bruckner - Symphony no.5 (APE)
Botstein: Bruckner - Symphony no.5 (APE)

Composer: Anton Bruckner
Orchestra: London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conductor: Leon Botstein
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Telarc
Size: 211 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Symphony No. 5 in B flat (“Tragic”; “Church of Faith”; “Pizzicato”), WAB 105 (various versions)
Composed by Anton Bruckner
Performed by London Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Leon Botstein

1. I. Adagio – Allegro
2. II. Adagio
3. III. Scherzo : Molto Vivace
4. IV. Finale : Adagio – Allegro

A powerful, visionary reading, but the sound is wretched

A decade ago lovers of Furtwangler had to settle for many off-air transcriptions that came in wretched sound, but now, with so many refurbished and remastered tapes, the pickings are much better. I had hoped that this Dokumente release of the Bruckner 5th from Salzburg in the summer of 1951 would feature improved sonics — after all, the original tapes were available to Radio Austria — but alas, there’s scant improvement. Bass is negligible, and Bruckner’s magnificent sound world has been squeezed into the dimensions of a table-top radio. The only good news is that there’s no tape hiss, pops, or crackles, and the pitch is steady.

I notice that Henry Fogel, a noted Furtwangler expert, places this reading below the wartime 1942 account in terms of overall tension, calling the later one soft-grained. Perhaps, but one still has to admire such an incandescent interpretation, so free, expressive, and flexible in phrasing that nobody else quite compares. The 3-star reviewer (who gets his dates wrong for both this concert and Furtwangler’s death year, 1954) seems far off base to favor a literalist like Gunter Wand over a poet like Furtwangler. Taste is personal, but he has the basic facts wrong: this interpretation could be described as blazing and visionary. “Tired” is not even close.

In the end, no one can afford to miss this Bruckner Fifth on musical grounds, but the sonics are a serious impediment, especially to newcomers.

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