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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 8 in C minor (1890 ed. Nowak)
((i) Allegro moderato [17:02] (ii) Scherzo: Allegro moderato – Trio: Langsam [16:48] (iii) Adagio: Feierlich langsam; doch nicht schleppend [26:27] (iv) Finale: Feierlich, nicht schnell [25:32])
World Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. Konserthus, Stockholm, 8 December 1985
Picture format NTSC 4:3; Sound Formats PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Region Code 0; Disc Format DVD 9;
EUROARTS 2051368 [94:00]

 

I regard Carlo Maria Giulini as one of the greatest of all Bruckner conductors although he only recorded the Second, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Symphonies. There are now three versions of his Eighth available – the others dates from 1983 with the Philharmonia Orchestra (a live recording on BBC Legends – see review) and 1984 (a studio recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on DG currently only available from ArkivMusic). I haven’t heard the former but the only difference in interpretation of note between this reading and the Vienna studio version is a broader tempo for the Adagio in the studio. Interestingly, his Vienna version of the Ninth is also considerably slower in the Adagio compared to Stuttgart – the only other DVD of his conducting of this composer I can currently find (see review). As ever, Giulini uses Nowak’s edition of the composer’s final thoughts. He obviously knew the score well enough to leave it in the dressing room and appeared to feel every note of the music.

The occasion was the inaugural concert of the World Philharmonic Orchestra in Stockholm over two decades ago. The orchestra was formed to promote peace, has top players from around 80 countries and is still going (see website). To my knowledge though, it has not made as much impact on public consciousness as the East-West Divan Orchestra founded more recently by Daniel Barenboim. Perhaps they have been touring the solar system since 1985? One could regard the lack of a playing tradition as an advantage or disadvantage - probably the latter in Bruckner would be my view - but there is no doubt that they played this work very well on the night. I found the (unnamed) leader’s playing a bit visually distracting at times but there are few, if any, fluffs in one of the most taxing works in the symphonic repertoire.

Giulini’s Bruckner sings most eloquently but unfortunately his vocalise is here frequently audible in the background - not something I have noticed with this conductor before. The recording generally is not out of the top drawer and there are odd hints of congestion at climaxes. I would not want to put this on for sound only as it is well short of CD quality. Regarding the pictures, camera work is pretty standard but whoever wrote the script didn’t realise that this is the only Bruckner symphony with a harp. This is well-balanced in the trio and adagio but I can only recall the briefest distant glimpse or two.

Written documentation is fairly standard for a DVD – i.e. poor in my view, especially as there are no significant extras unless you like trailers. I don’t know where the 94 minutes claimed running time comes from because the performance lasts about 86 minutes and there is about a minute or so at either end, including some views outside the hall to open with.

All round, much as I admire Giulini’s conducting, I don’t think this would be a better purchase than Pierre Boulez’s same label DVD of a performance given in St. Florian over a decade later to commemorate the centenary of the composer’s death (see review). The pictures there are considerably better and sound marginally preferable - despite Tony Haywood’s point that its sound is better on CD. Boulez’s fresh-sounding approach - he had never tackled the composer before - comes across very well. There is also Wand’s DVD to consider. I haven’t seen it but John Phillips was impressed (see review) and I do have fond memories of seeing him conduct the work at the Proms in the 1980s. So my advice would be to look elsewhere for a DVD of Bruckner’s Eighth, to acquire one of the CD versions of Giulini conducting the work - according to whether you prefer studio or live recordings - and to see this maestro conduct Bruckner through his Stuttgart Ninth on DVD.

Patrick C Waller

 

 

 



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