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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 8 in C minor (1887) (Original version)
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Recorded 1999
RELIEF CR 991063 [74’16"]

This is another of Relief’s series of CDs marking Vladimir Fedoseyev’s first twenty-five years at the helm of this orchestra. Next year he’ll have been with them for thirty years – quite a milestone. I’ve recently enjoyed two companion releases, both of which featured music by Tchaikovsky [review review]. How, I wondered, would conductor and orchestra fare in Bruckner?

Unfortunately, the documentation accompanying the CD is extremely poor. Nowhere in the brief notes is there any mention of the fact that Bruckner’s Eighth exists in more than one edition. Most recordings use the critical edition by Robert Haas of Bruckner’s revised 1890 score. This performance by Fedoseyev uses the much more rarely heard 1887 version of the score. I presume that he has used the edition of the score prepared by Leopold Nowak as the music sounds the same as on Georg Tintner’s traversal for Naxos, which definitely uses Nowak’s edition. (Unfortunately, I haven’t had access to a score of the Nowak edition.) I do feel that the choice of edition should have been pointed out much more clearly on the sleeve, as the 1887 version is radically different to that of 1890. There are a vast number of differences between the two scores, many of them obvious structural or thematic points. Many others are much smaller details of scoring but most are clearly audible to those familiar with the 1890 version. The 1890 version is also appreciably shorter for, as Tintner points out in a very useful note accompanying his recording, Bruckner cut some 164 bars of music from the 1887 score.

As far as I know there have been only two other recordings of the Nowak version. One, which I have not heard, is from Eliahu Inbal’s cycle; the other is by Tintner. I am wary of "stopwatch" criticism. However, the first thing to note is that there is a massive discrepancy between the length of Fedoseyev’s reading (74 minutes) and Tintner’s, which comes in at 89’30". So far as I have been able to tell from purely aural comparisons both conductors play the same text; in other words, Fedoseyev makes no cuts. However, pretty consistently the Russian conductor adopts swifter tempi.

Actually, with the exception of the third movement, the basic tempi that each conductor chooses in each movement are not radically different. However Tintner is much readier to adopt a slower pace for subsidiary tempi. Thus, for example, in the finale Fedoseyev reaches the start of the build up to the concluding peroration after 18’50". Tintner, having savoured more detail along the way, reaches the same point after 22’03". Now, you may find Tintner’s approach too indulgent but I felt that, despite a penchant for broader tempi, he was much more in command of the structure and of the atmosphere of the work. So, in this final peroration there is no doubt at all in my mind that it is Tintner who properly conveys the necessary sense of initial mystery and then of concluding majesty. Also, he handles the "simple" matter of the final chords more satisfyingly to my ears than does his Russian rival.

I’m afraid that on several occasions during the whole symphony I felt that Fedoseyev’s approach sounded episodic and "stop-start" with too little sense of overall structural grip or flow. In his defence, I must say that Bruckner doesn’t make things at all easy for conductors; the original version of the score does not have the thematic or developmental cohesion that we find in the 1890 revision which, in all four movements sounds far more tight and cohesive.

There is one significant way in which some listeners may feel that Fedoseyev is to be preferred over Tintner. This concerns the performance of the third movement. Tintner takes no less than 31’10" to play this great adagio. In Fedoseyev’s hand the same music plays for a "mere" 22’10". I can imagine that some may find Tintner’s spaciousness here just too much of a good thing although I find that his focused concentration convinces me. Fedoseyev has more sense of forward momentum and some may well prefer this. I’m bound to say, however, that for me much of the good work he does in this movement is undermined by the speed adopted for the wonderful coda. In his performance it is just too swift and as a result the music sounds matter-of-fact and almost perfunctory.

The Russian orchestra generally plays well though I think the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland serve Tintner’s conception just as well. The sound is perfectly good, if unexceptional (Naxos for Tintner is better, I feel.) As I’ve indicated, the notes are pretty useless.

Collectors wanting just one recording of the symphony for their collection should undoubtedly plump for the 1890 edition. The 1887 version of the score is interesting and Bruckner enthusiasts will want to hear it. However, it would be perverse to recommend this Russian performance in preference to the authoritative Tintner reading. If you want the 1887 score then the choice is clear.

John Quinn



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