Benjamin Zander & the Philharmonia Perform One of the Greatest Works, Bruckner's Symphony No. 5
Simultaneous CD & SACD Release (with Discussion Disc)
Benjamin Zander is best known for co-authoring the best-selling book The Art of Possibility, with his partner, leading psychotherapist Rosamund Zander, and for his Mahler work on Telarc. Fanfare called Zander’s interpretation of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony “is a revelation… Like Mahler himself, his time has come.” The Sunday Times called his reading of Mahler’s First and Song of a Wayfarer “…simply magnificent…” and gave it four stars. Now Benjamin Zander is back with the Philharmonia for a stunning recording of Bruckner’s powerful Symphony No. 5.
Zander had originally planned to record Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, but after performing Bruckner’s Fifth with the Boston Philharmonic last season, he realized that this would be his next recording. “It is a masterpiece of staggering proportions,” he says of Bruckner’s Fifth, “one of the greatest symphonies ever written. I had a sudden strong urge to record that.” When he began preparations for the performance with the Philharmonic, he recalled a conversation he’d had many years ago with his father, who had urged him to conduct this Bruckner symphony.
Zander’s father, in fact, had been an accomplished musician, although he never took his abilities past the amateur level. The younger Zander recalled reading letters written from his father to his paternal grandmother while the senior Zander was a young soldier in World War I. The letters from Europe to the homefront included requests that his mother send him several scores to occupy his time between military duties. “My father could hear the music in his head, almost like reading a book,” says Zander, “even though he would never be a professional musician.”
The encouragement from his father to perform Bruckner’s Fifth was the initial incentive for Zander. Once he became more familiar with the piece, he “discovered a treasure of surpassing beauty, which I wanted to share with the world,” he says. “This masterpiece is rarely performed or recorded, whereas the Shostakovich has been recorded countless times. I am hoping that through this recording and its all-important explanation disc, that we will create thousands of new fans for this great work.”
Just after the recording session, Zander told Producer Elaine Martone that “Bruckner’s time has come! Mahler is about the individual and Bruckner is about the collective.”
Anton Bruckner has been called the “Wagner of the Symphony.” His early works were mostly service music, plainly intended to praise God. When he turned to orchestral music later in life, the intent and philosophy of his sacred compositions were transferred into the newly adopted genre. In the liner notes to the new Telarc recording, Richard Rodda states that “his symphonies have often been called ‘cathedrals of sound,’ and the phrase is appropriate both for the mood that they convey and for their implication of grandeur.” Rodda adds: “a twenty-minute Bruckner symphony would be as ludicrous as the massive baldachino of St. Peter’s dropped onto the altar of the neighborhood parish church.”
“In working on the Bruckner Fifth, I became aware of how close his music is to Schubert,” said Zander, who strives in this performance to emphasize the song-like quality of the symphony. “I avoided the very slow tempi that have become common in contemporary interpretations and emphasized the sprightly, forward moving, urgency of the music.” After hearing this recording, William Carragan, the Contributing Editor, Bruckner Edition, Vienna said “this unique and magnificent interpretation and performance will be a compelling introduction to lovers of 19th Century symphonic music.” Carragan continued to say that this recording is “a totally new insight into the structure and beauty of what may be one of the finest symphonies ever written.”
Recording this momentous symphony “has been a profound and life changing experience,” says Zander. “Especially, it was a revelation to record it with the Philharmonia, only one member of which had performed the work with the orchestra before. She remembered the performance with Klemperer, in which she said the violins got lost for a whole page! The orchestra found the piece absolutely astonishing and riveting. It was a joy to introduce the work to them.”