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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
The Complete Symphonies

CD1

Symphony no. 1
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Adagio to symphony No. 3
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

CD2

Symphony no. 2 (1872 version)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

CD3

Symphony no. 3 (1873 original version, ed. Nowak)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

CD4

Symphony no. 4 (1880 version)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

CD5

Symphony no. 5
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

CD6

Symphony no. 6
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

CD7

Symphony no. 7 (ed. Haas)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

CD8

Symphony no. 8 (1887 version, ed. Nowak)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

CD9

Symphony no. 8 (Finale)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

Symphony no. 0
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland

CD10

Symphony No. 9 (ed.Nowak)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

CD11

Symphony no. 00 In F minor "Study Symphony"
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

"Volksfest" Finale (Symphony no. 4)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra

conductor: George Tintner
Recording:
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/National Concert Hall, Dublin: 1996
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Town Hall, Lower Hutt, New Zealand: 1995
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow: 1996-1998
NAXOS WHITE BOX 8.501101[12hrs:33mins]


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At last Georg Tintnerís much discussed Bruckner Symphony cycle has arrived complete, nicely packaged in one of Naxosís white Boxes. The other seven White Boxes, recently launched, are also complete symphonic cycles. Five of those employ a single orchestra. Tintner has three at his disposal.

All the Bruckner symphonies in the pack have been released separately over the last four years and reviews have already appeared on this web site. Terry Barfoot has taken an overview in addition to some separate reviews by others. I will thus discuss the merits or otherwise of purchasing the complete box.

What we have here is one manís view of a major body of symphonic work so the enterprise hinges on Georg Tintner. Not all conductors would be up to the job, to put it mildly. A true Brucknerian is one who, among other things, can handle the brass blaze-ups, spiritually plumbing adagios, rampant scherzi and so on yet keeps an absolute grip on the overall architecture. Getting the most out of those passing moments within a symphony yet leaving the listener with an impression (to use an architectural metaphor) of a solid, well-buttressed cathedral is no easy matter.

There is no question that Tintner is up to the job. Some of the things he does may not be to everyoneís taste but he knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. He certainly passes the test mentioned above. So we come to the next factor in the success of this venture, the orchestras - the players who have the responsibility to realise Tintnerís vision. Potentially there could be a problem here. If Bruckner fans were to pick their favourite symphony recordings they are likely to come up with combinations of great Brucknerian conductors with the great orchestras whose histories are partly bound up with the music Ė the likes of The Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics. One of the more recently recorded potent combinations has been Günter Wand with the Berlin Philharmonic. Many people found his Seventh Symphony breathtaking. Comparisons may be odious but people are going to make them. Tintnerís three orchestras do a superb job but they are not the Berlin Philharmonic. Tintnerís recording of the Seventh is, in my opinion, the finest in the box. It reflects the unavoidable fact that the playing of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is a notch above the other two orchestras. Nevertheless, the way the Berlin strings handle the great opening tune under Wand really is incomparably breathtaking in its perfection. Having said that, there are excitements in the Tintner performance that move me more that in Wandís which turns the focus back on our key factor Ė the conductor.

A third factor is the recording. I have long been convinced that spacious vaulted cathedrals, organs, sacred choral music and God were all merged and embedded in Brucknerís creative psyche. The symphonies belong to that world. The music needs to find a space where the sound can spread and soar heavenwards. Bruckner designed it so. This can be achieved in some venues but is rarely approached in recordings. Maybe it is impossible. Bearing that in mind, for me this set is recorded rather close and the trumpets in particular come right at your face often at the expense of the horns and Wagner tubas. Still, I cannot have it both ways since I rarely get enough of the bright brass and this approach helps to contribute to the excitement I mentioned in respect of the Seventh. There seems to have been some conferring among engineers across the three recording venues for there is an admirable consistency of sound. There is splendid sonority and many people will like it very much.

Another factor to take into account is the inclusion of curiosities of particular interest to scholars. The complete (and disowned!) "Study Symphony" and alternative versions of two movements, the Third Adagio and Fourthís Finale, are included. Which brings me to the thorny Bruckner "versions" issue. Those interested in the composer could, on this subject, be categorised into three: those who donít know too much and donít care, those who think it a necessary chore and know a little, and those to whom it is an all consuming interest (and are at risk of becoming Bruckner bores). Of course it is an important issue and decisions have to be made. In this case Tintner has made all the decisions based on a thorough knowledge, as can be gathered from his booklet notes. Those who fall into the first two categories can safely put themselves into Tintnerís hands. The experts will see from the list which are the versions and will have their own views. As a general principle Tintner tends towards Brucknerís earlier thoughts where he feels it appropriate. In some cases this has led to versions being included which are rarely heard. This applies particularly to the First and Second symphonies and many people will want to own these.

There is no question that this set is a major recording achievement. For those who are fairly new to Bruckner and need a beginnerís starter pack then this has to be it. Others who have incomplete collections of the symphonies, then this is a marvellous way to fill the gaps. Lastly, the seasoned fans will find here things of scholarly interest but in purchasing the box will own performances that will provide competitive alternatives to their old favourites. There is something for everyone Ė a real quality bargain.

Georg Tintner spent much of his career in Australasia and Canada so as a conductor he rarely got near mainstream centre stage. The Bruckner set is bound to have a major impact on his reputation, sadly a posthumous one for he died in 1999. This white box is a wonderful epitaph.

John Leeman


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