Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 8
Vienna PhiharmonicOrchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez
recorded 1996, St. Florian, near Linz at the International Bruckner Festival Centenary Concert celebrating Bruckner's birth.
DGG 459 678-2 [76.14]

This live recording forms somewhat of a departure for Pierre Boulez, as his recordings are rarely live, but recorded after a series of concerts in the studio. This one however was a one off, being recorded at the actual concert(s) and at the rehearsals to repair any slips, coughs and splutters etc. The engineers have been very successful at removing the extraneous noises and the performance is absolutely magnificent. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic cannot be faulted and the performance is quite unlike the performance I expected to hear before listening to the disc.

Are there any drawbacks ? Well, yes. The recording quality, whilst more than acceptable, could have been much better. Probably as a way of reducing audience noise, and possibly also as a result of critics complaining bitterly over the years about recordings which suggest any excess ambience, which I for one love, the opportunity to present this symphony in the acoustic for which Bruckner knew and loved is missing. At the end of the scherzo, for example, one hears the sound disappear up into the rafters, and it would have been wonderful to experience this throughout. What a missed opportunity.

Recorded in 1996, this recording has taken six years to surface - I suppose we will see much more of this because of the current state of the industry. No matter, it has allowed DGG to include it in the Boulez 2000 edition which is currently being promoted with further releases evidently on the way as the year progresses.

Turning now to the performance itself, I had expected to hear a scrupulously accurate exposition of the score with perhaps little or no rhythmic variety unless asked for by the score. What we actually hear is the phrases breathing with life, ebbing and flowing as the emotions flow and whilst these are not in the Jochum league, I am sure that anyone hearing this disc blind would be very surprised to learn the identity of the conductor.

Timings of all the movements are middle of the road, neither too fast or too slow, so there is nothing to complain about in that department. This is a performance which I enjoyed enormously and found most satisfying, albeit with my perhaps quirky views on recording quality excepted. To hear a Bruckner Symphony in a church or cathedral acoustic is absolutely thrilling as evidenced by Wand's recording of the 8th from the 1987 Schleswig Holstein Music Festival which has been around in the catalogue for some time now. I seem to remember that this recording was lambasted by some critics for being overly lively, so perhaps I am in a minority.

Buy this disc and enjoy it - you will not find a Karajan or Jochum performance, but one which lays out the structure clearly and accurately and is superbly played by one of Europe's finest Bruckner Orchestras, in a venue which must have moved all concerned greatly.

John Phillips

See also review by Marc Bridle

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