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Decca Phase 4
Symphony No.8 in C minor 1887-90 [75:45]
Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. December 1966, Sofiensal, Vienna. ADD
ELOQUENCE 442 9235 [75:45]
Bruckner 8th reissue is a real feast with the
spice of irony.
orchestra is the Vienna Philharmonic and most MWI readers
will know how the orchestra sabotaged the composer’s Symphony
No.1 in 1867 because the players disliked the shy composer
from a humble background. He lacked the polish beloved
conductor here is Sir Georg Solti, Hungarian then naturalised
British but from the same Austro-Hungarian semi-rural background
as the composer and immune from the German shadow which
has affected Bruckner’s reputation.
is true that Bruckner found the orchestral language he
needed in Wagner but let us ditch the idea once and for
all that he imitated the German mega-star when the men
were polar opposites in faith and morality. Might as well
say that Stravinsky imitated Webern in his late works when
an underlying ‘method’ was all there was, derived from
Schoenberg but not apparent in the actual sound.
you listen to Bruckner’s organ music it is clear that he
was struggling towards large-scale expression of a sonic
nature but bear in mind that Bruckner left no separate
organ works of genius as Bach and Messiaen did.
pet theory is that the slow developer Bruckner was far
from being the dim prole of popular legend but knew what
he wanted and achieved it supremely. For example can you
listen to symphonies 6 to 9 without seeing a link to how
later Russians used his orchestral style, hanging phrases
and dynamics from Tchaikovsky through Rimsky to Prokofiev
and Shostakovich. There is also more Bruckner than Brahms
in Elgar if you listen with open ears.
achievement on this classic Decca recording is Bruckner
as the composer surely wanted it and is hard to fault.
legendary expertise and digging is what I know best and
Solti knew his recordings inside out – the best (I think)
being his penultimate canon, some in mono.
has to be considered and his last recordings were brilliant
but a bit too swish for me, especially the Eighth, so this
gorgeous Solti from 1966 hits the sweet spot, although
earlier Karajan recordings are worth hearing, especially
is sombre the first movement (Allegro moderato)
until it gets to the brass and woodwind dialogues then
he digs, enables and things take shape. Bruckner placed
the Scherzo; Allegro moderato – Trio; Langsam second
and Solti takes it briskly at 14:35 with cascading glory.
There’s also a strong sense of fun and celebration emanating
from the orchestra which Karajan lacked but which Jochum
sometimes achieved. The third movement: Adagio: Feierlich
langsam is Bruckner as written, running to 25 minutes.
However what Solti does is to explore the layers of themes,
harmonies, superb orchestral subtlety and pace without
going too far. It’s easy to jump into a scented pool or
a luxurious silken bed but Solti remembers that Bruckner
was an austere man of strict faith. Sadly, Karajan’s last
Eighth falls into the trap of grandiloquence when dignity
and manifold emotions are quite simply built in … so no
need for big gestures. Solti is especially successful (try
about 16 mins in) when it comes to the slow ‘heartbeat’ undercurrent
stated at the beginning before the music gains pace to
a climax of sorts but not gaudy. Bruckner’s trademark of
dropping to near silence is vital here because the coda
in the last four minutes is contrapuntal instead of ‘post-orgasmic’ as
some conductors take it. Karajan nearly does but not quite.
Solti’s disciplined Adagio really pays off in the
contrast with the last movement of 21 minutes; shorter
than many. The majesty of the Adagio needs room to breathe
in the urgency of the Finale while retaining the huge sensual,
musical and spiritual tension. Solti judges this perfectly
- like Jochum in many performances with less famous orchestras
than the VPO.
conductor either has the secret of Bruckner or not and
it is a subtle matter. The idea of thirty-plus years ago
that Bruckner and Mahler could be paired in lucrative theses
and books is as plain daft as suggesting that the said
composers were ‘symphonic’ versions of Wagner from Central
Europe. Mahler was a Moravian Jew and Bruckner an Austrian
Catholic so we must think again.
with a big R grew out of post-Enlightenment literature,
visual arts and the age of revolution in America and France.
This furnishes a direct link to Beethoven, Berlioz, British,
German, French and Russian examination of history, landscape,
endeavour and danger. We don’t need to get bogged down
in Byron and Shelley disguising social revolution in parables
any more than Goethe, Wordsworth and Coleridge choosing
stark landscapes to represent human nature in a mere CD
review. These are however the keys to the various doors – squeaking
with gothic horror or not.
massive achievement was in advancing musical language as
he did, as well as changing the orchestra in many ways.
However Wagner’s chosen form was music-drama and style
followed the dramatic needs to an extent which some writers
seem to see as a disease. How many record sleeves and books
mention escaping Wagner? Did Holst in ‘Savitri’ or
Finzi in ‘Dies Natalis’? No but they had choices
and chose as they did.
didn’t spring forth from the loins of Zeus but worked in
his time on some failed and some moderately successful
works using the language of those times from Beethoven,
Berlioz, Weber and others. He just happened to be a genius
in middle life in the genre of music-drama.
had a big ego and wasn’t all that nice to know in many
ways but it’s illogical to associate the man with how other
composers used his language in more traditional ways such
as symphonies. Indeed, it is almost as stupid as branding
a man who died in 1883 with Hitler just because Hitler
liked his music. The dictator also liked wild west films
so do we denigrate actors and directors?
have made this point because it needed making and Solti’s
Bruckner Eighth re-release gave me a critical excuse simply
because it was made in 1966 when Solti was in the throes
of recording the Ring Cycle with the VPO and with the same
Decca producer, John Culshaw.
point? Actually a crucial one because second rate conductors
allow ‘leakage’ to occur between projects but Solti made
no such error in this truly magnificent Bruckner Eighth.
some respects it is the most difficult to bring off well
with large forces, harps in the slow movement needing forward
placement and demands on engineers to capture the front-to
back contours as well as the spread.
well nigh perfect release has a few very low non-orchestral
rumbles in III and IV but unless you have speakers pumped
down low or the hearing of a blue whale it would be silly
to miss the chance of buying this low price Australian
Decca Eloquence pressing for the joy and reflection of
Bruckner is a link to the composer and Karajan’s various
versions have much in their favour. However this issue
will become a reference standard to scholars as well as
being sublime, especially as new generation musicians are
finding Bruckner in their own way.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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