Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 5 in B flat major
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Rec October 1996, Kongresshalle, Saarbrücken
ARTE NOVA 74321 43305-2 [73.23]

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Stanislaw Skrowaczewski once again displays his capabilities as a Bruckner conductor of distinction, and his Saarbrücken Orchestra plays sonorously and with the utmost discipline. The performance of the epic Fifth Symphony has a long-term structural command, but there is abundant textural detail along the way. In other words, this is a performance to reckoned with.

However, this is not a new issue, but rather a remastering of a performance recorded for radio back in 1996. It does much credit to the recording team that it sounds better than ever in this reincarnation, and at the super-bargain Arte Nova price it represents a quite extraordinary bargain.

It is the two inner movements that impress most in Skrowaczewski's reading. As ever, he shows a keen appreciation of dynamic shadings, and in this regard as well as in the ambient sonorities, the recording serves him well. The scherzo is taken quickly, which is valid enough, but this does result in a few details of counterpoint being glossed over. For this is Bruckner's most overtly contrapuntal work, glorifying in the results his studies with his teacher Simon Sechter.

The slow movement is as eloquent as one could wish for, with a flowing pulse but equally a real sense of gravitas as the climaxes build. The outer movements too impress in their pacing, with the strongly characterised themes returning to make an impact at once expressive and structural. The Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra may not have the pedigree of the Berlin Philharmonic (whose recording with Karajan remains a benchmark), but play the two 'side by side' and you will be hard put to tell the ensembles apart.

The culminating passages of the symphony are hugely impressive as a true peroration and summation. The results have much to commend them, though on the debit side the tension is allowed to sag just a little too much in the passage before the emphatic final bars. On the other hand, rarely has the balance between the brass instruments been so impressively communicated, and there is no question that this is a noble and hugely rewarding performance of one of the greatest of all symphonies.

Terry Barfoot

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