Day 30: Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (Janowski)

My “office” for me and my ninja this morning is a local Starbucks.

Their Blonde Roast coffee with a slice of lemon loaf is just what the doctor ordered, the perfect taste treat for…

This morning, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (WAB 105), nicknamed “Pizzicato Symphony” or “Tragic,” interpreted by Polish-born German conductor Marek Janowski (1939-).

Maestro Janowski’s orchestra is Orchestre de la Suisse Romande.

The following bears repeating since it plays a role in the experience of listening to this morning’s symphony: the CD box set itself.

The Pentatone label is carving out a niche for itself as the high-end source for audiophiles of Classical music. Everything about this Janowski box set – like the Georg Tintner box set released by Naxos I reviewed in my 144 days site – screams high quality. In fact, if I was going to release a cycle of a conductor’s symphonies, and I wanted to do it right, I’d do it this way (or the Naxos way – but the sound is better on the Pentatone label).

The Pentatone box is made of heavy cardboard with a top that slides off, just like the CD box from Naxos.

Inside is a treasure trove of CDs, a massive booklet of notes, and even a voucher for a free album download.

I’m tellin’ ya, this is a keepsake box, the sonic material given the treatment it deserves.

Just FYI.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Janowski’s interpretations prior to this day, check out Day 4, Symphony No. 1.

And Day 9, Symphony No. 2

And Day 15, Symphony No. 3.

And Day 22, Symphony No. 4.

Here are the objective aspects of today’s recording:

Bruckner’s This morning, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major (WAB 105), nicknamed “Pizzicato Symphony” or “Tragic,” composed 1875–1876
Marek Janowski conducts
Janowski used the “Nowak Edition,” according to the back of the CD sleeve
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande plays
The symphony clocks in at 73:54
This was recorded at Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, in July of 2009
Janowski was 70 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 52 when he finished composing it (the first time)
This recording was released on the Pentatone label

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four movements. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 5 in B Flat Major), from this particular conductor (Janowski) and this particular orchestra (Orchestre de la Suisse Romande) is as follows:

I. Adagio — Allegro……………………………………………………………………..19:42
II. Adagio – Sehr langsam. (Very slowly)……………………………………..18:45
III. Scherzo – Molto vivace…………………………………………………………..11:33
IV. Finale (Adagio) — Allegro moderato……………………………………..23:29

Total running time: 73:54

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects of today’s recording:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 3
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 5 (big, thick, substantive booklet with insightful essays about the symphonies, the orchestra, and the conductor translated into English, German, and French)
How does this make me feel: 3

I just noticed something about this Janowski box set that I dislike.

When I wanted to find out the details of the performance today – like, when and where it was recorded – I couldn’t readily and easily determine that.

That’s because neither the back of the CD sleeve (below) nor the front (above left)…

Tells me which CD this is.

Is it CD #4? CD #6? CD #5?

The reason why that’s important is because in the Production Credits of the booklet it don’t tell me which symphony corresponds to which CD number.

Note:

And this:

Okay, from all of that, can you tell me which CD Symphony No. 5 is on?

No. You can’t.

So there’s no way to tell to what the production credits – as meticulous as they are – refer.

The reason why that’s not as obvious as you might think is because in many of these CD box sets, the symphony numbers didn’t match the CD numbers. In other words, Symphony No. 4 wasn’t always on CD 4. This was especially true with the Karajan box set I reviewed in the first leg of my Bruckner journey (144 Days With Bruckner and Me). The number of the symphony and the number of the CD rarely matched in that box set.

Why?

Two reasons, at least:

1. Sometimes, the CDs start the number with Symphony No. 0. So, CD 1 is Symphony No 0.

2. Sometimes, a symphony is split across two CDs – especially with Loren Maazel, Simone Young, or – as I discovered in this leg of my Bruckner journey – Celibidache. A standard CD holds 79 minutes of music. If a conductor’s interpretation goes beyond 79 minutes, then it takes two CDs to hold it. That means Symphony No. 5 will be on, say, CD #5 and CD #6.

So, this morning, as I’m trying to figure out the production information, I remembered that I took a picture of the inside of the box. The number of the CD is on the spine of each sleeve! From that, I was able to see that CD #5 is Symphony No. 5.

But I shouldn’t have had to go through all the trouble.

The folks at Pentatone did virtually everything right. But they forgot something as simple as enabling customers to see which CD they had in their hands.

Two easy fixes for that:

1. List the symphony in the Production Credits under each CD number.
2. Print the CD number on the back of the CD sleeve.

Now, I realize why Pentatone didn’t do that. They wanted to have a stylish, well-designed box set. Putting the CD number on the spine of the sleeves gives them that.

But designers and art directors often forget about the end users – me, in this case. (I can write that with full knowledge of which I speak because I worked with art directors and designers for 25+ years in the field of marketing/advertising. They tend to see things from an artistic perspective…not a functional one.)

As to the music on today’s CD…

It left me cold.

This was well-recorded, well-played stuff. But it didn’t offer me any magic. In fact, I’d even argue the well-recorded aspect of it. The instruments weren’t separated out enough. They were all mooshed together. No spaces between them, or between the notes. Flat, in other words.

Nothing in this performance leapt out at me. Nothing grabbed me by the lapels and shook me wide awake.

As sad as this makes me, I can only recommend this symphony to a newbie with slight reservations. I can recommend it, yes. But not wholeheartedly. I’ve heard better.

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