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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Desert-island Fifth, 23 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Bruckner: Mature Symphonies Vol.2 [Symphony No. 5] [Daniel Barenboim, Staatskapelle Berlin] [Accentus: ACC102175] [Blu-ray] [2013] (Blu-ray)
If I were to be banished to the proverbial desert island and could only take along a dozen recordings, this would be one of them. On the heels of a somewhat routine Fourth in his series of "Mature Bruckner Symphonies", Daniel Barenboim and his Staatskapelle Berlin pull out all the stops to give us an absolutely stellar Fifth. This was recorded live in great audio and video - excellent camera work invariably in sync with the score as we can expect from Accentus - at the Philharmonie Berlin on 21 June 2010. Once more, in terms of their virtuosity, refinement, splendor and sheer power, the Staatskapelle musicians demonstrate that they are one of a handful of leading orchestras in today's world. Ensemble, group and solo work are stupendous. The musicians are visibly in tune with their music director, evoking several of his rare smiles. Barenboim conducts the 71-minutes colossal symphony without a score: a rare feat indeed given the many quasi-repetitions and dynamic or voice shifts within the same thematic material. As far as I can determine without a score, the version performed here ("original version" of 1878) does not appear to be significantly different from the Novak edition used by other conductors.

From the measured introduction and the epic, monumental development of the first movement through the intimate, sublime beauty of the Adagio - Barenboim takes it slow as indicated, but never too slow and dirge-like - and the quirky, brilliant Scherzo with its biting accents to the glorious finale with its enormous contrapuntal fugue, this reading will grip you and not let go until the triumphant final bars. Every note, every shift in mood and dynamics is done "right", and the whole structure with its self-referential quotations and allusions remains present every moment. This is not only an inspired, but a highly concentrated reading that reveals the conflicting "two souls" within Bruckner's symphonic cosmos: the devotional striving toward metaphysical peace and the fear of death and nothingness. It is the clash of these forces that accounts for the proto-modern character of Bruckner's music, for its abrupt shifts in harmony and rhythm, its sharp, dissonant edges and disquieting silences. Barenboim often lets the silence speak between notes. He also doubles the timpani at the end of the first and third movement and in the finale to good effect: they are not drowned by the massed brass (as can be heard in other recordings) and thus the finale ends in overwhelming grandeur.

This is my version of choice on DVD, a companion piece to Franz Welser-Möst's (Euroarts, 2007) different, but equally moving recording (in the acoustically problematic Stiftsbasilika St. Florian, Linz). The late Claudio Abbado's quite special, but rather genteel reading (Accentus 2012) in my opinion does not come to grips with the symphony's chilling subtext.
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