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Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, March 2011

A wonderful recording. The orchestra plays beautifully, confirming the thought that this is one of the greatest pieces in the symphonic literature.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Gramophone, February 2011

BRUCKNER, A.: Symphonies Nos. 0-9 (Bavarian Radio Symphony, Maazel) 900711
BRUCKNER, A.: Symphony No. 5 (Bavarian Radio Symphony, Haitink) 900109

Of all the senior maestros treading the current concert circuit, Lorin Maazel is surely among the most unpredictable and his 1999 series of live performances with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (based on Nowak editions) has in some respects confounded my expectations. What were those expectations? In the main, a keen ear for detail, excellent execution and moments of visceral excitement, a warm projection of Bruckner’s melodic lines and an understanding of the music’s structure—in other words an intelligent, comprehensive hold on what the music is about without necessarily plumbing its depths or courting dangerous extremes. Well, I was wrong about the depths and the danger; all the other plus-points remain much as I expected them to be.

Over the years Maazel’s approach to Bruckner has broadened considerably. This 1999 version of the Third has the advantage of bold and sonorous Bavarian brass and, in the Adagio, some extremely beautiful string playing. The 1889 Nowak score is used, which makes for a more concise finale. Maazel’s approach to that finale is among the performance’s high-points, with a lilting account of the polka-style second subject and especially strong advocacy of the ingenious episode soon afterwards where echoing strings and brass conjure the acoustic of some vast cathedral.

Mention of cathedral helps identify precisely where Maazel challenges those dusty old preconceptions, namely, and in spite of some very slow tempi, by taking Bruckner out of his churchly comfort zone and treating his symphonies much as he might the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Brahms, even at times Mahler. This trend is especially noticeable in the early works. The busily discursive First Symphony is presented in the ‘Linz’ edition and enjoys a cracking performance of the Scherzo, “No 0” is even more impressive the doggedly slow opening, like a grim march, lends the music a slightly sinister edge and I’ve never heard a more daringly broad account of the lovely Trio.

Maazel’s Bruckner Second is considerably slower than most of his rivals but again the playing carries real conviction, at the start of the finale, for example, which opens delicately but climaxes with considerable power. Then there’s the yearning motif that opens the symphony, and the trumpet that cuts across it, the effect here unusually sombre. Maazel seems to have taken enormous care in his preparation of each work, focusing its singular character as a starting-point: his approach to the Fourth recalling something of Karajan’s grandeur, something of Jochum’s volatility, but the Scherzo, although boldly played by the horns, is a little sedate.

In the Fifth Maazel faces newly released competition from another BR-Klassik release, a concert recording from last February where the conductor was Bernard Haitink…it’s interesting to note that, according to the Bruckner discography at for a concert three days earlier his overall tempo had been 78′24″ as opposed to the more “regular” total timing of 75′43″ offered here. Comparing Haitink with the broader Maazel is instructive in more ways than one, mostly concerning the balance between the middle and the outer movements, where under Maazel the main body of the music is hardly allegro, and the adagio element of the second seems dictated more by a long, flowing line than by the specific tempo chosen for the pizzicato strings, which is relatively fast. The relation between the movements under Maazel is 23′09″ next to 15′09″, whereas with Haitink whose beautifully balanced approach is fairly characteristic of his Bruckner style overall, you have 20′31″ against 16′07″. There’s a parallel—if less extreme—comparison between the two versions of the Scherzo and the finale.

Haitink allows the music to unfold, as if its architecture were a given and his job merely to clear away the mists of time. Maazel’s is a more overtly characterful approach, most notably at the centre of the first movement, the statement of the principal theme at around 12′15″, where he employs a massive, swaying gait. Haitink (at 12′15″) is less extreme. Both conductors gauge the finale well, Haitink as always with a sure view of the whole terrain, while Maazel is freer tempo-wise and favours a more dramatic manner with dynamics. If you already have one or other of Haitink’s available Fifths, I wouldn’t necessarily advise swapping them for this one, though if you haven’t the magnificent playing of the BRSO and BR-Klassik’s superb recording might tempt you to add what is in effect a major Bruckner interpretation to your collection.

Maazel’s Sixth opens rather impatiently but once into its stride settles to a persuasive reading that generates both power and poetry. The Adagio is virtually Tchaikovskian in its feeling of impassioned elegy (try from 737″), whereas the start of the Scherzo highlights one of the qualities I most enjoy about Maazel’s Bruckner, namely an appreciation of Bruckner’s musical patterns, in this case (and helped by some very pointed playing) the way the rising motif that opens the movement infiltrates the first big tutti. The Seventh Symphony is given a warm, flowing performance, with woodwinds kept expressively audible in the first movement’s arching coda, while the finale’s alternation of a jaunty main theme with a chorale-style second subject is very evenly judged.

In the last two Symphonies tempi are sometimes stretched so far that the arguments threatened to snap, although the Trio to the Eight’s Scherzo is uncommonly swift. Here Maazel faces yet more competition from BR-Klassik themselves, in this case a 1977 Eight under Rafael Kubelik (now available separately on 900703), a magnificent reading in all respects, heroic, transparent and, in the great Adagio, drawn with the subtlest of brush strokes. Maazel’s Eight is broader than Kubelik’s by almost eight minutes (the differences in the editions used aren’t too significant) and with a quite overwhelmingly intense two-tier climax to the Adagio. The first moment’s coda is very imposing, but is it all just a little too theatrical? Certainly the first movement of the Ninth seems to be, a monumentally broad 31′17″, a weighty, slow-motion traversal, with a fairly “regular” Scherzo and a towering account of the Adagio third movement, perhaps the most satisfying episode in the whole cycle.

Summing up the pros and cons of this fascinating set is difficult. Was Maazel consciously recalling the older Celibidache’s Bruckner tradition with the Munich Philharmonic? After all, the charismatic Romanian maestro had died merely three years earlier. Somehow I doubt it: although many of Maazel’s tempi are slow, his style is more animated and outwardly demonstrative than Celi’s, the points he makes less aimed at integration than demonstration. I supposed you could say he provides a highly stimulating “alternative set”, one to place beside the colder beauty of Karajan (DG), the more temperate Wand (BMG) and Skrowaczewski (Arte Nova), the excitable (and at times ethereal) Jochum (DG or EMI), the elevated sobriety of Haitink (Philips) or the admirably clear-headed Volkmar Andreae (Music & Arts). It certainly gave me a great deal of enjoyment, much as attending the actual concerts would have done.

Michael Tanner
BBC Music Magazine, February 2011


It was after listening to the first movement of this symphony that Sir Thomas Beecham, who was no Brucknerian, said ‘I counted five pregnancies and four miscarriages.’ One sees—or hears—what he meant. It can seem, in this perhaps more than any other of Bruckner’s mature symphonies, that there are huge build-ups with, all too often, no clinching climax, until the ear-splitting end of the movements. That isn’t how it seems here, thanks to Bernard Haitink’s extraordinary skilful handling of tempo relationships, of accelerandos, and of dynamics. Perhaps the latter are the most important feature of all: Bruckner uses blocks of sound more here than in any other work, and the relative volume of sound is crucial. He is the first composer who used volume as a structural principle, and that can still seem so strange as to make the work almost incomprehensible. He never wrote so original a symphony again.

Fortunately Haitink’s well-nigh perfect grip on the work, and the magnificent playing of the orchestra, make this a memorable experience. The Bavarian brass are a quite especially rich and deep in sound, while the strings, compared say with the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics, are rather lean. This mixture is ideal in this work more than the other symphonies, and all told, if this is not the greatest recording, it is equal to any other. The quality of the recording sound is not to be sniffed at either.

Terry Barfoot
MusicWeb International, January 2011

Throughout his distinguished career Bernard Haitink has been a noted conductor of Bruckner, and his Bruckner recordings have always been regarded as among the finest available. His work with what was for so long the orchestra readily associated with him—the Amsterdam Concertgebouw—means that the recordings he made with them decades ago remain points of reference for all Brucknerians. Therefore this new recording from Munich, recorded live last season, holds a special interest.

There is no question that Haitink knows and loves this music. He has a strong overall view of this extended symphony’s structure, which in turn allows the ebb and flow of the emotional characteristics to make their full impact. It is in the slow movement that interpretations of the Fifth Symphony seem to vary the most, and here Haitink is both flowing and spontaneous. His performing time of just over 16 minutes contrasts sharply, for example, with Karajan’s with the Berlin Philharmonic (DG 415 985-2) of more than 21 minutes. It is a tribute to Bruckner’s mastery that in performance either of these approaches will give the impression that the music could not possibly be otherwise. Perhaps Haitink’s approach does miss something of Bruckner’s depth of spirituality in this movement, but on the other hand the flowing line does achieve compensations of its own. Perhaps the important point is that a great symphony is always greater than any one performance of it.

The recording is taken from a live concert and has all the special character that the occasion generates. The recorded sound is truthful and generous in both dynamic range and sonority, while equally important is that the Munich audience is well behaved—would that it were always so. This is the orchestra’s own record label and this issue is somewhat unusual in being new rather than drawn from an extensive archive of radio broadcasts. They are, after all, a radio orchestra and as such they will inevitably have access to an interesting archive.

The booklet presentation is adequate rather than inspiring, with half of it devoted to full page pictures and advertising. The notes are by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, the co-editor of the Bruckner Complete Edition, Vienna.

The playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is very fine, with rightly powerful climaxes and some beautiful quiet passages. The solo contributions, such as the clarinet in the early stages of the finale, are suitably distinguished. The recorded sound is always a crucial factor in Bruckner, as is the acoustic in a live performance. For the latter, the dynamic range is good, while the sound itself is capable of accommodating the naturally wide range of sonorities without problems.

In the outer movements Haitink’s concern for structural clarity is never forced or unnatural, and the musical line is articulated with the utmost conviction. If there are to be caveats they lie in the direction of power and weight, not so much of sound but of portentous significance, in which regard both Karajan (details above) and Günter Wand (RCA Red Seal 74321 845902) offer rather more. But Haitink is always convincing and the return of the principal theme as the symphony’s ultimate goal is undoubtedly the satisfying point of arrival that Bruckner intended it should be., December 2010

Bernard Haitink’s new recording of Bruckner’s Fifth confirms his position at the pinnacle of modern Buckner conducting. The performance, recorded live in Munich in February 2010, simply glows. This is a symphony pervaded by quotations from Mozart and from Bruckner’s own F Minor Mass, and also incorporating a gigantic fugue that leads to an ecstatic conclusion. Yet there is not a whiff of program music here, except in the general sense of religious redemption so common in Bruckner’s works. Haitink paces the symphony superbly, letting the three major Adagio sections (the introductions to the first and fourth movements, and the main pace of the second) breathe and expand in long, long lines, while moving the faster parts of the work quickly enough to produce and sustain drama—but not so speedily as to undermine the organic growth of the whole. The Bavarian Radio Symphony, one of the world’s great Bruckner orchestras, plays wonderfully from start to finish: the strings sweep and glow, the burnished brass provides beautifully rounded tone, and the woodwinds and percussion add piquancy and a deep underpinning, respectively, to a very thoughtful and emotionally expansive performance. The SACD sound is clear, bright and transparent: there is nothing turgid about this performance. And Haitink’s overview of the symphony results in its building, seemingly inevitably, from the themes that appear individually early in the work to their contrapuntal combination in the finale. This is Bruckner at his most rousing and resplendent.

Andrew Vetter, December 2010

I recently picked this from Amazon. I put it into my cars cd player.
On my way to work, as a band director, I was pleasantly surprised.
Great sound, sturdy performance, solid interpretation.
I have yet to play it on the sacd player. But, I have a feeling it will be quite good.
In the end, I like this performance. It may not be Karajan, Jochum, or Sinopoli.
But, it is very good.
Enjoy if you you want a solid, well recorded Bruckner 5.

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