BRUCKER Symphony No 5 – Abbado
‘Involvement’ is the keyword here, Claudio Abbado himself relaxed (or seemingly so), alert, exultant or visibly pleased as suits the moment, and always in clear command of his forces, though I doubt that such a modest man would approve of the word ‘command’. The orchestra, a superb body of players by any standards, plainly loves him: their responsiveness to virtually every bar is obvious, with everyone entering fully into the fray, especially in the Scherzo.
As an interpretation, not that much has changed since Abbado gave his Vienna performances at the Grosser Saal of the Musikverein in 1993 (issued on CD by DG), save perhaps that the earlier option is marginally more viscerally exciting. Tempo-wise, things have slowed just a little (around three minutes overall), but that’s not to suggest that levels of tension have eased significantly. Abbado keeps the music on the move; textures are full rather than thick and, although fluid, tempi never bend at the mercy of awkward or sticky transitions. It’s a classical stance that plays on the music’s imposing architecture but bombast (ampollosità, as Abbado probably knows it) is I would imagine unused in this man’s vocabulary. For the final peroration you hear woodwinds atop the brass (the DG recording is similarly clear), which helps make this most heroic of Bruckner symphonies (the 1878 version, ed Leopold Nowak) a plausible successor to Beethoven’s Third. The sound is excellent, the camerawork sensitive and technically first-rate. Abbado himself is invariably the main focus of attention and he’s wonderful to watch: theatrical posing and outsize gestures are evidently foreign to his nature. What you see is clear cueing, a discernible beat and subtle facial responses. The players vary in age and appearance: no stiffening dress-code clamps down with unwarranted formality, just well-dressed men and women totally into the business of making great music. And boy, do they deliver!