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BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

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Anton BRUCKNER (1824- 1896)
Symphony #7 in E (Haas edition) (1883) [61.49]
Manuel de FALLA (1876 - 1946)

El sombrero de tres picos (1919): Danza de los vecinos [3.24]; Danza del molinero [2.58]
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 - 1881)

Khovanshchina (1880): Prelude, Dawn over the Moscow River [mono] [5.13]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
Recorded Royal Albert Hall 19 July 1982 (Bruckner) 8 August 1963 (Falla)
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 7 September 1961 (Mussorgsky) ADD
Notes in English, Deutsch, and Français. Photos of the conductor.
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4123-2 [73.44]

 

Comparison Recordings:

Bruckner Symphony #7. Eugen Jochum, Berlin PO. DG 429 086-2

In one sense a Bruckner Symphony is rather like a bad case of the flu: while youíre sick you donít remember what itís like to feel well, and when youíre well again you donít remember being sick. When listening to Bruckner you enter a universe where time flows at a different rate, and the shock of re-entry into the ordinary world can erase all memories. Some years ago when the Günter Wand recording of the Fifth Symphony came out I listened to every recording available to me, some six in all, and I donít remember anything else that happened that whole week. (In case youíre curious, yes, the Wand recording, with the Berlin PO, was significantly superior to all the competition.)

The first movement of the Seventh Symphony is for my money the finest music Bruckner ever wrote; if I had been present at the Proms the night this recording was made, I would have lurched blearily out of the hall at the end of the first movement and found a (relatively, for London) quiet place to gaze at the moon and cry until I fell asleep. However, even though this is probably the finest performance of the whole Symphony ever recorded (donít take my word for it, listen to the audience screaming at the end of the work. My God, they sound like Americans! Fortunately for the dignity of England, the engineers faded out this unseemly and riotous jammering with abrupt dispatch and then with only a decent brief interval went on bouncily into the Falla) itís not the best performance of the first movement. Giulini, like a sensible opera composer, pulled the punch at the end and deliberately doused the climax. That makes you listen through the rest of the symphony before you can get off at the proper end of things, and a right proper end of things it is! For a whole Bruckner Seventh Symphony, as I said, this is probably the best youíll ever hear it. The sound, while not exceptional, is the best Iíve ever heard on any "BBC Legends" issue, as it would have to be for the Bruckner to come through so vividly. The BBC engineers understood that they faced a challenge and overcame it in good form.

But for me Iíd rather put on my clothes and go home at the end of the first movement. One Bruckner movement is all one ought to consume in a given day, especially the First of the Seventh which is as dependable a spiritual/æsthetic orgasm as the First of Mahlerís Eighth. With the properly intense ending, played no-holds-barred to the finish, like Eugen Jochum on DG. As to how Jochum does the rest of the symphony, Iím not all that sure, (as I said, one sometimes doesnít remember) but I donít think he does quite so well as Giulini. Jochumís sound [also ADD] is better, though, but not much. Jochumís timings are 10% slower in the first movement, nearly 20% slower in the adagio, but roughly equal on the last two movements.

Giulini and Bruckner are both Catholics. Since Iím not a Christian, technically Iím not either Catholic or Protestant, but from growing up in a small town in the USA Iím sort of culturally a Protestant. I was one of only four in my sixth grade class who didnít want to leave school an hour early on Tuesdays to go to church, so I had to sit there with the others and pretend to read a school book while the teacher read a magazine and did her hair until we could all go home at 3PM. But I relate very much to the rich spirituality of Catholicism (even as I join with my Catholic friends in deploring many of the Churchís administrative and social policies) and as a result I feel a strong personal affinity with Bruckner (as, for other examples, with Szymanowski, Haydn, Stravinsky, and Rimsky-Korsakov). Alan Watts seemed to feel that Protestant spirituality is a contradiction in terms; evidently he was unaware of the Messiah and the St. Matthew Passion. At any rate, Giulini and I both feel this is religious music, and thatís probably why I like his version of it. But if you like your Bruckner brisk, bright, and four-square to the bar, you may not like this recording.

As to the encores, theyíre quite well played, and the audience liked them, too, even though theyíre all but inaudible in the brilliance from the Bruckner. Nobody would buy this disk for them alone. But if you love Bruckner, or even if you donít yet love Bruckner, you will most likely want this disk in your collection.

Paul Shoemaker

 

 



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