GRAMOLA, 2 SACD
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The 20th anniversary of the Bruckner Festival in St. Florian in 2017 was celebrated with the Fifth Symphony, B major WAB 105 by Anton Bruckner. Interpreted by the Altomonte Orchestra with maestro Remy Ballot - the brilliant combination which since 2011 has been honored with numerous international prizes - the "Fantastical" (cit. Bruckner) came to be a truly worthy culmination of the festival. Through the interaction with the unique acoustics of the Priory Basilica, the abysses of deep despair Bruckner was afflicted with during the time of composition come to light, but also the strength and force which kept him alive and gave him Newton-like powers. For "The conclusion of the 4th movement, the incomparable so-called final coda of the Fifth, is one of the most convincing messages of confident optimism ever written by human hand." (Klaus Laczika) Remy Ballot was born in Paris. While studying violin, music theory and music teaching at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique de Paris, where he completed his studies with a diploma, at the age of 16 Ballot met his mentor Sergiu Celibidache, under whose guidance he ultimately developed his own individual style. While still a student in Paris he founded his own orchestra made up of talented young musicians and with it was able to deliver the first public proof of his immense talent. To advance his artistic development Ballot moved to Vienna in 2004. Remy Ballot is guest conductor of numerous orchestras in Europa. Special ties connect him with the Festival Brucknertage St. Florian, where each year he rehearses and performs a symphony by Anton Bruckner. http://www.brucknertage.at
|1||Sinfonie Nr. 5 B-Dur|
|1||1. Introduktion. Adagio - Allegr…||23:29||9.99€|
|2||2. Adagio. Sehr langsam||22:42||9.99€|
|3||3. Scherzo. Molto vivace (schnell) - Trio. Im…||15:17||3.19€|
|2||1||Finale. Adagio - Allegro moderato||28:00||9.99€|
One of the many very moving achievements of this performance is to be felt in the profound calm that underlies the whole conception, and that surfaces in passages of meditative quietude such as the second subject of the first movement, that quiet pizzicato chorale, or a wonderful transition between the A theme and the B theme of the Adagio on their second appearance, and even the chorale and fugue in the finale. These are moments of sheer magic folded within the ample acoustic of the abbey at St Florian in what is a beautifully recorded living performance - caught with all the advantages of hearing a real event rather than a studio confection, the cost being - if you regard it as a cost - the occasionally intrusive audience noise, especially two abrupt sneezes in the quiet opening pages, so faithfully recorded that first time round I thought someone in my house had caught this winter’s ‘flu. On the other hand, the gentle rustle and umble of a quiet audience between movements adds to the sense of atmosphere and the privilege to feel oneself among them, part of a true occasion. The generous space between the end of the music of one movement and the start of play in the next is very welcome - a performance such as this needs time to settle before moving on. Listeners familiar with Rémy Ballot’s previous performances will expect a very measured performance, and the overall timings would suggest this is another such, but I was never aware of the tempo disfiguring the structure nor undermining the purposefulness of the interpretation. Indeed, the opening introduction and the Allegro first theme are taken at a ‘normal’ tempo and have considerable vitality, but then the meditative second theme is wonderfully slow, and the third theme, by the use of a very grand and stately tempo, avoids the thumping raucousness that can beset it. That all works well, very well - and in the recapitulation too. The woodwind are striking in this recording and bring significance to their contribution that doesn’t always shine so tellingly in some other performances, and of this I was particularly aware during the central development of the first movement and the build-up in the coda.
This is a symphony that progresses from the very start with the finale in mind, one consequence of which is that the intensity of the preceding movements is probably best kept within a sense of moderate proportion. Indeed, I find these movements at their most eloquent in the less heavy and over-dramatised performances. In Ballot’s hands the coda to the first movement is strong, quick, and an exciting close, with tremendous timpani roll well caught by the recording, but always with enough restraint to allow that there is even mightier stuff to come. The Adagio that the Altomonte players give us is certainly slow and intense – intensely beautiful – but in, for example, the second subject I hear a restrained nobility, no sign of a feverish Mahlerian ecstasy, and all the lonely woodwind solos that wind the movement down have a quiet melancholy that speaks volumes. Bruckner marks the Scherzo Molto vivace and emphasises the instruction by the addition of Schnell [Fast] in brackets. Ballot’s tempo cannot be regarded as ‘fast’, but the Altomonte orchestra are wonderfully beguiling here, full of lilt and rhythm, and in fact the movement seems to feel shorter than many a quick performance.
The introduction to the Finale, with the review/dismissal? of the themes of the first and second movement sounds very portentous, you really get the feeling that something extraordinary is ahead of you – and the playing of the oboist (Angelika Gruber) in the reminiscence of the Adagio is particularly heartrending, all the little sections given plenty of time and space. The first theme Allegro moderato fugue is gripped strongly, articulated precisely. The scurrying second theme with its warm, pastoral trio brought a smile to my face - there was something very human about it, nestling within these mighty surroundings, and the brassy third theme blazed golden as it should, falling to near silence, just a ppp drum tremolo, into which – very slow – the cellos and basses present a rising scale, a passage of immense anticipation.
The chorale now arrives, it too very slow, and the fugue on the choral which follows is spelt out even slower. The rhythm is dogged, metronomic almost, so that rather than marching forward the fugue seems to prefigure minimalism and here presents more a state of being, hypnotic and mesmerising, a feeling that is confirmed rather than undermined when the dotted rhythms of the first theme fugue arrive. This whole chorale to double fugue passage in this performance wheels like the movement of the planets, a vast and slow central section to the movement. It was maybe only here that I would have welcomed a little more precise attack from the strings, they sound perhaps a little tired - not surprisingly! - but it’s a live performance and you really wouldn’t want such a virtuoso piece to sound ‘easy’.
Things quicken up again for the recapitulation of the second theme and third theme transition to the coda. The recording, which copes magnificently with the acoustic of St Florian (another splendid achievement by producer and balance engineer, John Proffitt) is no doubt magnificent on SACD, though on my CD player through Stax electrostatic headphones it sounded a bit challenged in final pages, a little congested and the horns not as forward in their replies to the full brass as one might wish - or maybe the horns were exhausted too! But if so, these things are the merits of truly live performance which embodies the attempt of mere humans to scale the supreme heights, an aspiration to which this splendid double CD set is superb witness. The closing triumph does not in this performance sound to me like a blazing vision achieved through struggle, the result of purposeful and strenuous progress throughout the movement, but more like a final revelation of a state of calm and glowing blessedness that underlay the whole symphony.
The set is nicely presented in folding cardboard wallet, passionate and informative notes by Klaus Laczika, and divided between 2 CDs such that the finale has a CD all of its own. Applause, starting slightly before the reverberation has died away, is included. It is a worthy addition to that select group of recordings that do justice to this symphony that the composer himself never heard performed.
Retired Editor, The Bruckner Journal 2005-2016
Review originally published: The Bruckner Journal, Volume 22 No.1, March