At a Glance
Anton Bruckner is perhaps the most misunderstood of the great symphonists. In his own day, he confused both his supporters—leading them to undertake extensive editing of his works to make them conform better to contemporary norms—and his detractors, among them the redoubtable Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick, who savaged most of his symphonies at their premieres. In our own day, too many concertgoers react to him with incomprehension and boredom.
Labeled by his contemporaries "the Wagner symphonist," Bruckner actually wrote symphonies that are anything but the Romantic/Wagnerian celebration of self. Instead, they are spiritual quests and homages to God, in whom he fervently believed and whom he sought to glorify in his music. "Each of his symphonies is in reality one gigantic arch that starts on earth in the midst of suffering humanity, sweeps up toward the heavens to the very Throne of Grace, and returns to earth with a message of peace," writes biographer Hans-Hubert Schönzeler.
Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin give us the unprecedented opportunity to experience all nine of these magnificent symphonies over an 11-day span—both the ones we may know well and those we rarely encounter. Tonight, we hear one of Bruckner's greatest masterpieces, the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, which is, paradoxically, among his least performed. Paired with it is the charming Sinfonia concertante in E-flat Major, K.297b, which may or may not be wholly by Mozart, but is in any case an irresistible showpiece for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn.