This is the first appearance on CD of a recording made
in 1971 and first issued on the Tudor LP label. It was made during Kempeís
seven-year tenure as Chief Conductor of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
and Iím glad to see it restored since the Kempe recorded legacy is far
too thin for such a great artist who died at the height of his powers.
His Bruckner is impressive and distinctive. It is conjured from within;
nothing is imposed upon it. Certainly not the kind of personal odyssey
that a Furtwängler or a Jochum embarked on every time they lifted
a baton in front of this composerís scores: the kind of approach that
can lead to extreme changes of tempo from section to section no matter
how seamlessly done. Kempe, on the other hand, moulds the music but
never at the expense of underlying structural integrity.
In the first movement all attention is on the natural
lyrical pulse, an innate knowledge of precisely where to press forward
and hold back and by how. The climax of the movement is therefore arrived
at with a natural inevitability though others might leave more desolation
after the trumpets have roared out their warning. In the second movement
there is an admirable balance between weight and forward movement. Furtwängler
was always too fast here, Jochum always too lightweight. Horenstein
got it dead right both in his Vox studio recording and his BBC Legends
"live" performance. I like also the optimism that Kempe finds
here. A fine antidote to what has gone and an appropriate preface for
what is to come, I feel. The wonderful trio section, the one Bruckner
wrote especially for this revision, is given luminous space. I well
remember how in his first recording Bernard Haitink rushed this sublime
music; a mistake he didnít make in his Vienna remake. Under Kempe the
great adagio third movement is then sonorous and searching with that
same gently subtle flexibility that never intrudes. There is also the
impression of every warp and weft of the music under an eye that at
the same time never loses sight of the big picture. The same applies
to the last movement. It takes a great conductor to span this remarkably
disparate piece out and convey its grandeur and drama without exposing
its joins. Karajan, Horenstein, Boulez and Van Beinum certainly do it
too and Kempe is in that number. However I wonder if a better orchestra
than this one would have given us something that would have truly rivalled
those named, both here and in the entire work, though more of that in
a moment. There are a few more rhetorical touches apparent in this movement
than in the previous ones but they come naturally and add to a feeling
of "live" performance.
If you collect CDs you are in the fortunate position
of being able to hear the very best orchestras at the press of a button.
The downside of this is that lesser orchestras suffer more in comparison.
The Zurich Tonhalle are a fine band, responsive to Kempeís vision, possessed
of good ensemble and accuracy. However when you then compare their playing
with that of Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam or London in other recordings
available of this work you begin to see how any of those cityís orchestras
under Kempeís baton would surely have given us a Bruckner Eighth to
really treasure. The Zurich brass, for example, is just not in the same
league as that of Vienna or Berlin. They havenít the expressive range
or, most especially, the effortless power when playing full out. You
know they are playing at their limit in these passages. The strings
also need a little more weight and more power.
The recorded sound gives us a well-balanced, general
picture that is quite sonorous and possessed of a good bloom of reverberation.
But it is slightly limited in that the "top" seems a little
clipped and there is a limit in dynamic range. There are passages in
Bruckner where you really need to hold your breath at the profound near-silence
of it all and that never really is possible here.
Jascha Horensteinís recording on BBC Legends (BBCL
4017-2) is a "live" performance with the LSO that balances
the cerebral and the emotional in near-perfect accord and remains my
own personal favourite, and you should read my review of it to see why.
However I was also mightily impressed with Pierre Boulezís recording
on DG (459 678-2). Here the Vienna Philharmonic are recorded in Brucknerís
beloved St. Florian in a performance demonstrating the virtues of an
orchestra like this playing this music. Boulez also delivers an interpretation
in the grand tradition and I hope he regards that as a compliment. The
recorded sound is the best modern digital too. Marc Bridle reviewed
that release here and I agree with every word of what he says. You must
also consider the Berlin Philharmonic under Günter Wand whose Berlin
Philharmonic recording on BMG/RCA (74321 82866-2) was
enthusiastically reviewed here by John Quinn. Finally let me draw your
attention to a superb recording by Eduard van Beinum with the Amsterdam
Concertgebouw made originally for Philips in 1955 but which can now
be found on the Musical Heritage Society (515229F). Here is another
great Bruckner orchestra under a conductor whose interpretation has
some similarities to Kempeís. The sound recording might be in mono but
the playing represents a kind of gold standard and that is what this
A welcome addition to the Kempe discography though
not a top recommendation.
also review by Colin Anderson