Eliahu Inbal is a notable Brucknerian, and his contribution
in the field of bringing the earlier editions of some of the symphonies
to wider public awareness is a major feat. With his excellent Frankfurt
orchestra he has given many live and recorded performances of Bruckner
and Mahler in particular, and it is right that these should enjoy a
'second coming' in the form of reissues like this one.
Of course the Seventh Symphony has little of the controversy
surrounding which edition should be played. It is a remarkable reflection
of the nature of Bruckner's symphonic thinking that an issue can be
made out of whether or not there should be a cymbal clash at the climax
of the slow movement. (And one which, if used, represents the player's
only contribution to proceedings which last in excess of an hour.) But
such is the Bruckner experience that the inexorable structural and tonal
control builds to its moment of fulfilment and release, and a judgement
has to be made by the conductor about including or omitting the cymbal
clash. There is no simple answer, right or wrong: among recent recordings,
for example, Simon Rattle (EMI) includes it, Georg Tintner (Naxos) does
not. For the record, neither does Inbal.
The Seventh gave Bruckner the greatest triumph of his
career as a composer of his symphonies. And rightly so, in the sense
that the wonderful arching opening theme immediately reveals the work
of a master. Inbal sets a carefully articulated course in the first
movement, allowing the ebb and flow of the development to grow naturally
and very effectively. His tempi tend to be quicker than slower, his
inclination is always to keep the music moving rather than to indulge
in its qualities of sound. At some points, particularly in the finale
- which is always the hardest movement to bring off - this can make
the music sound a little prosaic.
Getting the right sound is a priority in a recording
of a Bruckner symphony. This recording dates from the mid-1980s and
was made by Teldec. It is clear and truthful, quite ambient but the
level is too low to make a really impressive effect without the aid
of extra effort from the listener's amplifier. It's astonishing how
much difference this can make, though even then some of the mighty brass
chorales don't open out as much as they might.
The great slow movement is given appropriate dignity,
with well chosen tempi and phrasing which allow the music to unfold
and make its solemn impression. The violins do not quite have the warmth
of tone that this music really needs, or the recording has denied it
to them. The result is not absolutely damaging but this symphony has
been much recorded and this is a competitive field.
Someone at Warner ought to have another look at the
design of the booklets for this series. Why have such tight-packed small
print on glossy paper, with the bottom portion of the page left blank,
and the whole of the back page of the four pages left entirely blank?
It makes no sense.
While not a first recommendation, this disc makes an
interesting addition to the catalogue, for here is a performance of
a great symphony by a conductor who knows and loves the music.