BRUCKNER:  Symphony No. 5 in B Flat
Staatskapelle Dresden/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond.

DEUTSCHE GRAMOPHON  469 527 (F) (DDD) TT:  76:37

Entre nous, please: I have a lot of trouble keeping Bruckner symphonies separate in my head. I've heard all 11 by now, and kept recordings of most (duplicates in the case of Karl B–hm's stupendous Vienna Philharmonic recordings of Nos. 3 [albeit the butchered 1889 edition], 4 and 7, the former two on Decca, the last on DGG). Slow movements are seldom a problem, especially those in Nos. 7 and 8—the later one, to my way of thinking, an incomparable Thanks to God. But, lacking perfect pitch (I have only perfect relative pitch), there's usually trouble at the start of most, because so many begin the same way and are structurally kindred, to boot. Likewise most of the Scherzos, despite their rustic air, give me trouble (again with the exception of No 8, plus No. 9); likewise several of the finales. I'd be dumb-man-out on a symphony quiz without being told which movements had been chosen for identification.

I once had to memorize 435 Leitmotifs (with the professor's nomenclature) in Wagner's Ring, and 50 years later can remember a surprising number, although (except for Das Rheingold) I stopped listening to full-length Ring operas after 1973, when I didn't have to any more. "Bleeding chunks" usually suffice, and maybe a half-hour of a Met broadcast, if it is being sung instead of barked or bayed by the principals.  Back to Bruckner, however, who idolized Wagner (Der Meister planned to conduct a cycle of the Bruckner symphonies completed through 1882, but died instead). There's one finale, though, I can spot in minutes—the Fifth Symphony's, because a solo clarinet plays the sappiest motif he ever wrote. It lends itself to Baroque-derived elaboration later on, but still sounds sappy—here no less than in many other versions I've heard since the first, on a great bunch of Hitler-era 78s, by B–hm and the Saxon State Orchestra (today the Dresdener Staatskapelle).

Now, live from September 3, 1999, DGG gives us a new Dresden recording (Eugen Jochum remade it there in 1980) with the late Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting the Nowak edition—and I must say very persuasively. He neither Strausses nor Schoenbergs nor Italianizes the music, while this most underrated of European concert orchestras plays beautifully throughout. The recording (presumably in the restored Semperoper) has more presence, definition and body than DGG's Bruckner Third by the same forces, recorded in the Lukaskirche in 1990, which I've kept because Sinopoli used the 1877 second version rather than the 1889 dismemberment that B–hm and too damn many others chose.

Beyond praising this performance as sonorous, idiomatic, warmly recorded, with the quietest audience imaginable, I don't feel really safe in going further. I held onto Georg Tintner's 1996 Naxos recording from Glasgow with timings in the same range as Sinopoli's: GT's 20:17 vs. GS' 20:51 in I; 16:23 vs. 18:48 in II (Sinopoli is the more eloquent I think); 14:41 vs. 13:30 in III; 25:55 vs. 23:28 in IV (which GS helped by doing it 2 minutes quicker). Brucknerites will have their favorites, but might want to add this latest one to their Fifths by Jochum (irony or ironies, he said before dying that he never liked Bruckner), Karajan, Dohnányi, Beinum, Furtw”ngler, Wand, Solti, Abbado, Celibidache, Kempe, und so weiter. Suffice it say I'm keeping Sinopoli.

R.D. (Jan. 2002)