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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 (edited Ferdinand Löwe)
Bavarian State Orchestra/Hans Knappertsbusch
Rec 10 February 1958, Kongressaal des Deutschen Museums München
ORFEO C 578 021 B [50.45]


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It is one of the great ironies of our understanding of our world that the further we move away from the time that events occurred, the closer we can become to them, as the result of the accumulation of research. This is absolutely true of music, as witness the trend towards 'authentic performance' which has been such a significant development.

Now Bruckner is a special case as far as authenticity is concerned, and the various different performing editions of his scores have their advocates. Some of the symphonies are more problematic than others, but the great Ninth, the unfinished masterwork he dedicated to his 'Dear God', is on the face of it more straightforward than its fellows. This reissue of a live Hans Knappertsbusch performance from 1958 reminds us that the issue of editions exists also for this symphony.

It was only from the 1930s, long after Bruckner's death, that the Ninth Symphony that he had composed began to establish itself in the repertory. The first performance was posthumous, having taken place in 1903, using the edition featured on this recording conducted by Hans Knappertsbusch.

The fact that there was a first performance at all owed much to Bruckner's disciple, the conductor Ferdinand Löwe, who with the best intentions made his own performing edition of a score which he felt to be incomplete beyond the fact of missing its final movement. His changes largely consisted of re-scorings and small transitions, and this version was performed on many occasions over many years. The original only received its belated, posthumous premiere under Siegmund von Hausegger, in Munich on 2nd April 1932. From that time onwards, the growing interest in Bruckner's own editions (a complex matter of course), led by the scholars Robert Haas and, later, Leopold Nowak, helped to establish the original version as the norm.

Therefore those who know and love Bruckner's Ninth will be fascinated, and may perhaps irritated, by what they hear on this CD. For Löwe had the audacity to re-score sections of the symphony and even to add his own linking passages to maintain a continuous flow when Bruckner 'erroneously' left pauses. Sometimes, as at the climax of the great slow movement, the balance is altogether different from Bruckner's original. Since this comes towards the end of this unfinished work, which always sounds so complete in performance, the change of focus becomes all the more important. There are only a few cuts, however, so the shorter length of this performance is largely down to the chosen tempi.

Quite why Knappertsbusch opted to play this version as late as 1958 is hard to say. When this recording of a live Munich concert was made, he was just 70, and he was at the height of his powers. He was a committed Bruckner conductor, but he did perform versions of the symphonies, this one and other reworked efforts by the Schalk brothers, which most scholars have subsequently dismissed as inauthentic. In the case of the latter (in the Fourth Symphony, for instance), there are some American enthusiasts who still fly the Schalk flag. A possible explanation is that as his training and career developed, Knappertsbusch owed debts of influence to some of these distinguished musicians, and his tastes remained loyal to what he had already learned.

This performance of the Ninth Symphony has a flowing and logical line, with subtle and sensitive rubato which makes the most of the music's expressiveness. But the recorded sound demands of the listener what we might term a certain suspension of disbelief, since there is little or no richness in tuttis; that unique Brucknerian sonority is little in evidence, regrettably, even if it had likely been when the performance took place. In addition there are some odd balances and plenty of intrusive contributions from the audience.

This CD is a fascinating document which I commend to interested parties, but it has relatively little to do with the great symphony which many claim to be Bruckner's masterpiece.

Terry Barfoot


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