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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major

Saarbrücken Radio Symphony
Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Rec 27-29 September 1991, Kongresshalle, Saarbrücken
ARTE NOVA 74321 27771-2 [68.45]

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The completion and issue/reissue of the complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies on Arte Nova, played by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, has been one of the highlights of the year.

This recording of the Seventh Symphony is actually a full ten years old, dating from September 1991 and first released several years ago. Now it is back in the catalogue and takes its worthy position in the canon of these fine performances. For once again Skrowaczewski proves his calibre as a Bruckner conductor, and once again the Saarbrücken orchestra match his demands with first class playing.

There is only one issue concerning editions with this piece, of course. That is the question of whether or not there should be a cymbal clash at the peak of the climax in the great slow movement. This performance opts for the Nowak edition, which means the cymbal clash is included (in the Haas edition it is not). In fact it turns out that it makes little impact, both musically and sonically, and in that sense it is the most disappointing aspect of the performance. Now it may seem strange to write of a single cymbal clash being so important, since in many works - Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, for example - such things are 'two a penny' - but in Bruckner the serious tone of the development is such that a single moment of arrival means everything. Here that moment doesn't really come off, though thankfully there are other strengths in abundance, most notably the magnificent sonority of the orchestral playing in the fully scored passages.

The tempi have that subtlety of tension and relaxation with marks out all the best Bruckner interpretations. For example, the first movement opens gloriously, with one of the composer's most inspired themes played with wonderful sonority, and phrasing which allows the music to breath and grow. Then the more rhythmic contours of the secondary material make for an ideal balance as the large structure is built across its twenty-minute span.

The slow movement is deeply serious, at once majestic and noble. Skrowaczewski plays it as a genuine Adagio, releasing the inspired themes stage by stage and with a long term vision. The results are compelling, which is why the relative under-achievement (sonically speaking) of the biggest climax of all is only a minor problem. At the end of the movement, the 'funeral music for the master', as Bruckner called his tribute to Wagner is glowing and deeply felt.

The Scherzo has abundant energy, and the principal trumpet plays at the top of his form in leading the way. The finale links back to the first movement material, the faster pulse broadening at the close with the return of the principal theme. For this is a glowing, beautifully judged performance. If the recorded sound is not quite as good as Arte Nova provide in other performances in the series, it is still perfectly acceptable. So at bargain price there is no reason for collectors to hesitate.

Terry Barfoot


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