Monday, September 29, 2014

Gerd Schaller's Bruckner 5

Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 5
Philharmonie Festiva

Conducted by Gerd Schaller

Profil Hänssler CD PH14020

The summer festival at the abbey church of Ebrach has been an important Bruckner venue since its inception in 2008 by Gerd Schaller, the founder and continuing artistic director. Schaller has recorded a complete Bruckner cycle there with the Philharmonie Festiva, a festival orchestra whose core is drawn from the Munich Bach Soloists, supplemented by hand-picked soloists from the other Munich orchestras. After this release of Symphony No. 5, only No. 6 remains (together with the Study Symphony, for completists).

The music festival has released a nice promotional video of Schaller conducting a 5 minute extract from the symphony. The video shows the magnificent surroundings. For those fortunate enough to have attended the performance the overall effect of hearing Bruckner in an ecclesiastical location so close to the spirit of the composer and his music must have been very special indeed. Those listening at home, though, can’t help but notice the very real acoustic trade-off that comes from recording in such a cavernous setting. The video also shows the extraordinary number of microphones used by Bavarian Radio to record this live performance from July 2013. On the one hand the reverberation and echo of the cathedral threatens to obscure some of the fine details of the score. But on the other those very same features help to create a very rich and magnificently developed sound, particularly in the strings and brass.

Acoustically the pros in this performance far outweigh the cons. The first movement suffers a little in clarity of articulation, particularly in the climaxes. But magnificence wins out in the last movement – surprisingly perhaps, given that the last movement is Bruckner’s most contrapuntally complex movement (but then again churches and complex counterpoint have a long history together).

As I observed in an earlier review of Schaller’s Bruckner 4, his approach to Bruckner is majestic rather than monumental or mystical. This pays off in Symphony No. 5, particularly given the classical architecture of the final movement. He also has a fine ear for Bruckner’s changes of tone in the Adagio and Scherzo.  Finally, there is some exceptionally fine playing by the solo oboe and clarinet (particularly in movements 2 and 4 respectively).