Day 74: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (Masur)

brucknermorningdec15-2016My “office” this morning is one of the many Panera restaurants in town.

For the record, I dislike Panera immensely. I think their service is terrible, their food is mediocre, and their music is loud and obnoxious. Yet, they’re nearly the only game in town at 6am.

So, this is where I often find myself.

Along with a girl now sitting across from me hacking up a lung, blowing her nose, and sneezing into the crook of her arm.

Great. Just what I need.

Just goes to show you, ladies and gents, that I suffer for my art. 🙂

brucknermasurcd5frontThis morning’s conductor of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major (WAB 105) – nicknamed “Tragic,” “Church of Faith,” or “Pizzicato” symphony (for reasons I’m still discovering) – is Kurt Masur (1927-2015), another person about whom I knew nothing and of whom I had never heard until I started this project.

He was born in Germany and died just last year (almost to the day – December 19, 2015) at the age of 88 in Greenwich, Connecticut, U.S.

I first heard Mr. Masur interpret Bruckner’s symphonies on Day 10, Symphony No. 1.

Then again on Day 26, Symphony No. 2.

Then again on Day 42, Symphony No. 3.

Finally, most recently, on Day 58, Symphony No. 4.

Today is Day 74, slightly past the half-way point in my 144-day journey.

burlivessamIn one of my previous posts about Maestro Masur, I wrote that he reminds me at first glance of American folk singer Burl Ives, who, I’m sorry to say, despite his considerable fame and fortune as a folk singer and actor, I remember most from his being a cartoon in the classic children’s Christmas special Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Ives played the narrator, Sam the Snowman.

But enough about Burl Ives.

This morning, I’m listening to Kurt Masur.

And so, here are the facts:

brucknermasurboxBruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B-Flat Major (WAB 105) composed in 1875-1876
Kurt Masur conducts
Masur used the “original version (1876)” (whatever that is), according to the CD sleeve
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig plays
The symphony clocks in at 78:30
This was recorded in Leipzig, Germany, in 1976
Masur was 49 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 51 when he finished composing it
This recording was released on the RCA Red Seal label

According to its entry on Wikipedia, the version listed on the CD sleeve doesn’t exist as that. Not exactly, anyway. There’s no “original version (1876)” listed anywhere. Not that I can find. Of an 1876 version, Wikipedia reads,

1876 version

This version is still unpublished.

In 1997, a first attempt of reconstruction of the 1876 version, by including in the Finale music from the “1876 First Concept” (Ed. Carragan), was recorded by Shunsaku Tsutsumi with the Shunyukai Symphony Orchestra.

In 2008, Takanobu Kawasaki was able to assemble the original concepts (1875–1877) of the symphony from manuscripts Mus.Hs.19.477 & Mus.Hs.3162 at the Austrian National Library. These original concepts have been recorded by Akira Naito with the Tokyo New City Orchestra. As commented by John F. Berky, “It is the best available CD to present some of Bruckner’s earlier thoughts for this massive symphony.” In its original concepts the symphony is scored without a bass tuba and more prominence is given to the string instruments. The tempo of the Adagio introduction of movements 1 and 4, and that of movement 2 are scored Alla breve, i.e., notably faster than in the 1878 version.

So my guess is Masur used the 1878 version, which is “This is the version normally performed.”

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four parts. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major, “original version [1876]”), from this particular conductor (Masur) and this particular orchestra (Gewandhausorchester Leipzig) is as follows:

I. Introduction (Adagio) — Allegro. B-flat major……………………………21:10
II. Adagio. Sehr langsam. (Very slowly) D minor……………………………17:10
III. Scherzo. Molto vivace D minor…………………………………………………14:18
IV. Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato. B-flat major…………………..25:52

Total running time: 78:30

And now for my subjective assessment:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 4
Overall musicianship: 4
CD liner notes: 0 (totally unacceptable)
How does this make me feel: 3

The best I can say about this performance is that I don’t have a strong feeling for it one way or another. It’s competent.

The recording is more in balance than it was yesterday (Day 73, Maazel). The instruments don’t make me wince.

But there’s not a whole lot of energy here. It sounds very pastoral. Sedate. Not at times pastoral and at other times electrifying.

There’s really nothing wrong with this recording/interpretation.

But there’s nothing about it to write home about, either.

Frankly, I’d rather be listening to Burl Ives.

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