Symphony No.5 in B flat [edited by Leopold Nowak]
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 31 October 2015 in Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: July 2016
CD No: LPO – 0090
Duration: 79 minutes
The continuing of Stanisław Skrowaczewski into his nineties is testament to a conductor (and no mean composer) whose career has been characterised by sheer consistency as regards interpretative priorities. Bruckner has been central from the outset, with this account of the Fifth Symphony following on from the Third and the Seventh as the fruits of his recent association with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The results will delight converts to Skrowaczewski’s cause, and may well win over a few previously sceptical of his approach.
There are no real surprises in his take on the first movement, its Adagio introduction rendered with breadth but also enough forward motion to head seamlessly into an Allegro whose themes are incisively then deftly delineated. While the development (its course memorably described by Robert Simpson as that of a tree splitting through the surrounding rock) is just a shade literal, the surging transition into the reprise is unerringly judged then the coda unfolds with that terse decisiveness which makes for a conclusion as determined as it is provisional.
A little staid in his Saarbrücken studio recording on Oehms, Skrowaczewski’s approach to the Adagio here conveys a more yielding quality – witness the limpid plaintiveness of its opening theme as countered by the searching eloquence of its successor. The central intensification is again a little halting in its onward course, but the circling transition back into the opening theme is as ideally paced as the tailing-off into the final bars lacks nothing in inward tension. Its formal and expressive complement, following on immediately (as happened in the concert), the Scherzo is even more persuasive; the driving energy of its outer portions offset by the poise of its Ländler interludes, the brief Trio then teasing through its alternately speculative and nonchalant gestures. Bruckner never conceived a more ingenious or humorous movement, as this account amply attests.
If not quite as fine throughout, the Finale yet emerges as the culminating statement intended. After the deadpan retrospection of its introduction, the movement is convincingly held together (even if the expressive emphasis on the second theme’s alternate phrases might pall on repetition) – most evidently in a development whose fugal opening stages are as forcefully gauged as its later canonic exchanges are precisely shaped. A relatively literal reprise proves to be Skrowaczewski’s means of emphasising the all-round scope of a coda that builds with unswerving focus to an apotheosis crowned by the resplendent re-emergence of the chorale, though some textural modifications during the heady closing bars suggest Skrowaczewski is not averse to intervening (however subtly or momentarily) in the standard Nowak edition.
The recorded sound has both clarity and immediacy – if not much in the way of perspective – such as confirms the Royal Festival Hall acoustic, with none of those post-production glosses that the redoubtable Colin Anderson noted in his reviews of the previous two Bruckner releases. Stephen Johnson’s booklet note is highly serviceable, and this LPO version is to be preferred to Skrowaczewski’s studio account by dint of its emerging as a living and constantly evolving whole. Some thirty seconds of applause has been retained – but, in the present work, why not?