Rémy Ballot / Altomonte Orchester St. Florian

Anton Bruckner: Symphonie V

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As recordings of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major have increased and its popularity has grown to rival that of the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic" and the Symphony No. 7 in E major, the work is beginning to shed some of its unnecessary extramusical baggage. Rarely now is the symphony called by spurious nicknames ("Church of Faith," "Pizzicato," and the inexplicable "Tragic"), and the composer's religiosity is less frequently cited as the motivation behind its composition. Instead, Bruckner's symphonic development is seen as a diligent application of lessons learned from studying the symphonies of Beethoven, and despite the personal difficulties Bruckner endured during the Fifth's composition, his biography is no longer needed to explain the symphony's dramatic changes of key and mood, rigorous formal design, and Herculean feats of counterpoint. This live audiophile recording by Rémy Ballot and the Altomonte Orchester St. Florian isn't the most compelling reading of the Fifth, because the tempos are overly slow and the performance seems cautious, as if the orchestra wasn't quite prepared to play with the fire and energy needed to make the music convincing. Yet this hybrid SACD, recorded in 2017 at the resonant St. Florian Basilica where Bruckner is buried, offers rich and spacious sound and a considered interpretation that makes every part cleanly defined and audible. Die-hard Brucknerians already have their favorite recordings of the Fifth, which this 2018 Gramola release likely won't replace, but because it brings out every detail and reveals much of the symphony's inner workings, especially in the fugal Finale, it is recommended for study with a score.

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