Once under-performed and irregularly recorded, Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major has become quite popular in the first decade of the twenty-first century and is steadily rising in its number of recordings, appearing almost as often as the Symphony No. 3 in D minor, if not as frequently as the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic," or the Symphony No. 7 in E major, the perennial favorites. This boom of interest in the Fifth has brought about fresh assessments from conductors noted for their pursuit of original, unsullied Bruckner, or at the very least, from those who have an interest in accurately presenting his music and in its proper late-Romantic style. Philippe Herreweghe has not demonstrated a special interest in conducting Ur-text versions of the symphonies since his catalog shows a later edition of the Fourth, and only the original version of the Seventh, which was minimally edited anyway. However, Herreweghe does champion historically informed performances, as revealed in his choice of late-nineteenth century instrumentation (including gut strings) and smaller orchestra size, so the relatively pristine Nowak edition of the Fifth is readymade for the authentic treatment. The work proceeds with great clarity of parts, fully audible dynamic levels, and focused sonorities in a resonant acoustic, which show that counterpoint is the central point of this symphony, and Herreweghe clearly understands that Bruckner intended this work to be his great monument to polyphony. The crowning glory of the Fifth is its colossal fugue in the Finale, and the symphony's trajectory carries the listener along to one of the most resounding endings in the symphonic literature. Herreweghe gives the work enough propulsion that the energy of the Orchestre des Champs Elysées never flags, despite Bruckner's numerous pauses, and the performance is satisfying for its robustness of attack, powerful emotional commitment, long-breathed phrases, towering climaxes, and unfaltering continuity through potential pitfalls. Harmonia Mundi's sound is rich and full with wonderful presence and vivid details.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Symphony No. 5 in B flat, WAB 105|