CD Review: BRUCKNER SYMPHONY V (Altomonte Orchester St. Florian; Remy Ballot, conductor)

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by Tony Frankel on May 16, 2018



It’s no doubt coincidental that the fifth recording in a series of Bruckner Symphonies conducted live by Rémy Ballot is of the Fifth. If you haven’t yet heard the previous four – the Third, Eighth, Ninth, and Sixth – get ready for a shock. Recorded in August 2017 at St. Florian, the basilica in Upper Austria where Bruckner worked — and where he remains buried beneath the organ inside the church — Ballot is out to offer Bruckner’s Symphonies as Bruckner most likely wanted them: very S-L-O-W. In fact, this gorgeously engineered recording runs almost 90 minutes on 2 discs; that’s almost 15 minutes longer than Horenstein’s fiery recording with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The very expansive phrasing and deliberate pace made all the difference when Ballot tackled the Third, which he made glacial but profoundly moving. Here, it just doesn’t work for me – although I suppose some listeners may enjoy the work as vastly majestic, stately and daunting. While I believe this interpretation is valid, it has traded fire and brimstone for a leisure and diffusive rendering, slack and lacking in uregency, even with the basilica’s huge, resounding acoustics. The earnest sluggishness thwarts an accrual of tautness in many spots, and the presentation feels so excessively aware of being solemn and panegyric as to make it sometimes lackluster.

The French conductor leads The Altomonte Orchestra, founded in 1996 on the centenary of Bruckner’s death by Augustinus Franz Kropfreiter (1936-2003) and Thomas Wall (solo cellist, orchestra director); the name of the orchestra refers to the Baroque painters Martino and Bartholomeo Altomonte, the creators of the frescoes of the magnificent halls in St. Florian’s Priory. The huge orchestra – and especially the horns, which keep a tight ship in these thick waters – is phenomenal. The recording – so clear that we can hear shifting and coughing along with the well-delineated instrumentals – never feels oppressive even as it avoids dramatics. When the tempo fits the work, as in parts of the final movement, the results are awesome. It’s tremendously dignified without being pretentious, and well worth owning for those who value different interpretations of Bruckner. This Hybrid / surround sound SACD release marks the 20th anniversary of the Bruckner Festival in St. Florian, an event which was celebrated with the Symphony No. 5 in B flat major.

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (1878 Version Ed. Nowak)
Altomonte Orchestra Saint Florian; conductor, Rémy Ballot
released March 16, 2018
Gramola 99162 | 2 SACD | 61:29 & 28:00; total 89:29
available at Naxos and Amazon

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