SYMPHONIES: AN INTRODUCTION AND REVIEW
OF SELECTED RECORDINGS
Patrick Waller and John Quinn
Austrian composer Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
struggled to gain recognition in his
lifetime but is now universally acknowledged
as a major symphonist. His music is
quite original and has a characteristic
style which led to the suggestion that
"he did not compose nine symphonies
but one symphony nine times". In
fact, he wrote eleven symphonies in
all and each has much individuality.
Together they represent a series of
increasing power and profundity akin
to a great journey.
purposes here are three-fold. First,
to provide a brief introduction to each
of the works; secondly, to consider
the merits of the recordings which either
or both of us have heard (more than
eighty in total) and finally to make
some recommendations for collectors
who are coming afresh to the music of
this composer. It should be borne in
mind that our combined experience of
Bruckner recordings is far from exhaustive
and that the choices made are necessarily
perspective is that of listeners rather
than musicologists (which we are not)
but it is impossible to write about
these symphonies without addressing
in some way the question of editions.
During his lifetime Brucknerís symphonies
were living creations and were influenced
by (a) his desire for them be heard,
even if cut and (b) the suggestions
and tamperings of others, notably the
Schalk brothers. This led to numerous
revisions and the existence of various
editions. During the century after his
death a lot of dust settled, some editions
were discredited and definitive editions
were published under the auspices of
the International Bruckner Society.
There remain five symphonies (Nos. 1-4
and 8) for which there is effectively
more than one version and for which
a listener will have good reason to
question which edition is being played.
We will deal with major issues in relation
to the versions of each work as we go
along, although there are many points
of detail that are beyond the scope
defined above. We will make no attempt
to argue which editions are "best".
It is perfectly possible to regard each
separate version as a valid work in
its own right and, indeed, admirers
of this composer will surely want to
hear all of them.
to the nine numbered symphonies there
are two forerunners which are now usually
known as Nos. 00 and 0. The latter was
mostly composed between the 1st
and 2nd symphonies but, in
view of its number, we shall consider
it before the first symphony. All Brucknerís
symphonies have four movements but the
9th was left complete only
as far as the end of the third movement.
There are extensive sketches for the
finale and realizations exist which
have been recorded but these are not
considered below. With the exception
of the (relatively rarely recorded)
first version of the 2nd,
as far as the 7th symphony,
the slow movement is placed second and
scherzo third. In the 8th
and 9th this order is reversed.
In compiling this article, we have
found John F. Berky's online discography invaluable: www.abruckner.com.
Disc numbers, dates of recordings, timings for individual movements
and detailed information about editions can all be accessed on
or through this site, regardless of whether or not a disc is currently
work dates from 1863 when Bruckner was
aged 39 and is also known as the Studiensymphonie
since it was written whilst he was taking
lessons in orchestral composition from
Otto Kitzler. In F minor, it takes about
40-45 minutes to perform if the exposition
repeats in the first and last movements
are included (they are omitted by Tintner
Ė see below). Classical in structure
and perhaps most influenced by Schumann
(whereas Schubert was a bigger influence
on later works), this is the least individual
of the symphonies but it is possible
to hear some foreshadowings of his later
style. Bruckner never intended it to
be more than an exercise and, given
the problem he had getting his works
performed, would doubtless have been
amazed if knew that anyone would be
interested in it 140 years later. Since
it does not provide the kind of powerful
and uplifting experience that is the
hallmark of this composer, it is primarily
something to listen to for interest
but it could also be a useful teaser
for friends who think they are good
at identifying composers.
to detain ourselves for long here. The
discography lists only seven recordings
to date and one should suffice. Georg
Tintnerís is the most obvious choice
since it is well played and recorded,
and at bargain price on Naxos. This
also has a useful coupling that is otherwise
going to be hard to find Ė the 1878
Volksfest finale from the 4th
Symphony (an interim version between
the original of 1874 and the final version
now normally played). See
symphony is also known as the Nullte.
It is in D minor, a key shared by his
third and ninth symphonies, and could
be looked upon as a precursor of those
later works. It was started in late
1863 (i.e. shortly after No 00) but
then set aside until after the Symphony
No 1 had been composed and performed.
Bruckner revised the score (mainly,
it seems, in the middle movements) in
1869 and the original version does not
seem to have survived. Subsequently
the score was shown to the conductor
Otto Dessof in the hope of a performance,
he is reputed to have looked at the
opening and said "but where is
the main theme?" Bruckner was devastated
and effectively withdrew the symphony
but fortunately he did not destroy the
score. This is an attractive work of
some substance (even if the main theme
of the first movement is presented very
tentatively) and the slow movement is
a few recordings of the Nullte
have been made but it is never going
to be a money-spinner for a record company,
and they come and go quickly. Tintner
is again the most obvious choice in
a double-disc bargain price coupling
with the (rarely recorded) first version
of the 8th Symphony on Naxos.
See brief review.
Chaillyís version with the Berlin Radio
Symphony Orchestra (Decca) and Haitinkís
generally swifter reading on Philips
are also recommendable but will probably
only be obtainable as part of complete
first numbered Symphony is in C minor.
It was composed in Linz in 1865-6 but
extensively revised in Vienna in 1890-1
i.e. after the composition of the 8th
symphony. The first performance was
conducted by Bruckner in 1868 and did
not make much impact. However, it is
a highly original work, often more forthright
than most of his later symphonies. The
earlier version is much more frequently
played than the revision, most conductors
perhaps feeling that the changes to
the scoring (there are few important
structural revisions) made in Brucknerís
dotage do not fit with the work of a
much younger man.
recording of Haasís edition of the First
Symphony with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw
Orchestra is taut and brings out the
originality of this music. Now available
in a Phillips Duo set, the reissue has
the benefit of being coupled not only
with Haitinkís earlier (1965) reading
of the Ninth, with the Concertgebouw,
but also with a blazing account of the
Te Deum, set down with the Vienna Philharmonic
in 1988. However, to hear what are truly
Brucknerís first thoughts one should
turn to Tintnerís recording of the edition
recently prepared by William Carragan
on Naxos. Most of the differences are
in the finale and have much less impact
than the revisions made in Vienna. see
extensive revision of this symphony
which Bruckner made in Vienna has been
recorded quite rarely. Both Chailly
and Wand have set down decent performances
in acceptable sound. Chaillyís version
is slower in all four movements and
lasts for 54 minutes Ė six minutes longer
Second Symphony is in the same key as
the first (C minor) but is less dark
in feeling and represents a big step
towards his later style. The use of
pauses between some paragraphs was very
unusual at the time of the first performance
in 1873 (under Bruckner) and led to
the nickname Pausensinfonie.
This doesnít seem to have stuck, presumably
because it could equally be applied
to later works. There are several editions
of this work, which was originally completed
in 1872. In the first version the scherzo
was placed second but Bruckner revised
the work in 1876-7, reversing this order
and making various changes and cuts,
particularly to the finale. In 1892
he made some further revisions but,
to date, that edition has not been recorded.
In practical terms, most recordings
are of the 1877 version, of which there
are Haas and Nowak editions. In this
respect, the situation is similar to
that pertaining to the Eighth Symphony:
Haas reinserted some cut passages from
the original back into the revision
whereas Nowak omits them.
is very easy here, partly because there
are so few recordings and partly because
Tintnerís Naxos reading with the National
Symphony Orchestra of Ireland is wonderful
in every way - see review.
version (Haas) from 1969 is one of the
highlights of his complete set and it
is perverse that it seems to be the
only one of the numbered nine in this
series not to have been reissued as
part of the Philips Duo series. Wandís
1981 reading with the Cologne Radio
Symphony Orchestra is also of the Haas
edition but is marginally less convincing.
Providing you are not wedded to Haas,
Giuliniís reading with the Vienna Symphony
Orchestra from 1974 (on Testament) is
a clear first choice amongst 1877 editions.
The sound is satisfactory and Giuliniís
affinity with this composer shines brightly
throughout the work. Indeed he seems
to have had a particular feeling for
this symphony, it being the only one
of the early works that he recorded
(there are various recorded versions
of numbers 7-9 but we can find no evidence
that he set down any of the others -
does anyone know of any performances?).
composition of the Third Symphony perhaps
caused Bruckner more grief than any
other. In particular the first performance,
conducted by the composer in 1873 was
a complete disaster and the beginning
of the serious criticism he received
in the press from Eduard Hanslick. On
the plus side, however, Wagner accepted
the dedication of the work and it is
sometimes known as the ĎWagner Symphonyí.
Although some musicologists regard this
work as rather weak, from a listenerís
perspective it is splendid and probably
the first of this composerís symphonies
than can be regarded as standard repertoire.
Amongst many marvellous moments (including,
for example, the mysterious opening
and trumpet theme), the juxtaposition
of polka and chorale as the second theme
of the finale is unforgettable. Apparently
Bruckner once explained that the idea
for this came from passing a music hall
whilst the coffin containing a famous
architect was laid out in a nearby building.
of versions, there were two major revisions
to the original and in each case the
work became shorter in an attempt to
solve structural problems. The final
version is most often played and recorded
despite there being little doubt of
the influence of the Schalk brothers.
version is well played by the Royal
Scottish National Orchestra and an obvious
choice at bargain price although some
may feel that his tempi are too slow,
particularly in a first movement which
lasts just over half an hour. The whole
symphony here takes nearly 78 minutes
in comparison to Inbalís 65 minutes
for the same edition (this is the main
alternative but we have not heard it).
Haitinkís Amsterdam recording dates
from 1963 and was the first of his complete
series. It is a very convincing interpretation
which is slightly tauter than his 1988
remake with the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra. There are some slight differences
in the editions used by Haitink Ė the
later version uses Nowakís 1981 edition
which includes a brief coda to the scherzo.
The sound provided for Haitink was more
than acceptable in 1963 and quite spectacular
in 1988. See a detailed review
of the later reading .
1964 performance is somewhat hobbled
by the recorded sound which conveys
little, if any, atmosphere and is constricted
and rather shrill at climaxes. In the
first movement Barbirolli doesnít really
give the music enough time to breathe.
Happily, matters improve thereafter
but overall this is somewhat disappointing.
See detailed review.
conducts the Saarbrucken Radio Symphony
Orchestra in a very forthright and well-played
reading from 1996. This perhaps misses
some of the grandeur that Haitink brings
to the outer movements and there is
an odd tempo for the second theme of
the finale. This is taken substantially
more slowly than usual and doesnít really
come off. The sound is excellent and,
if it can still be found at budget price
(the cost of this series seems to have
increased over time), this would be
a good choice for the final version.
first symphony Bruckner wrote in a major
key (E flat) was subtitled the Romantic
(and was then followed by three
more in major keys). Although its genesis
was almost as problematic as the third
and, despite arguments that he never
quite solved the structure of the finale,
this has become his most popular work.
The opening tremolando and horn calls
are particularly striking, as is the
"hunting" scherzo. The original
version contained a completely different
scherzo and the finale went through
two major revisions before reaching
the form in which is it now almost invariably
heard in 1881. Differences between the
Haas and Nowak editions of this version
are minimal. There are also later editions
dating from around 1888 but the revisions
were probably not Brucknerís work. Newcomers
to this composer would do well to start
here by acquiring a recording of the
1881 version of this symphony or, better
still, hearing it live.
did not record the first version of
the Fourth Symphony but Inbalís Frankfurt
reading of 1982 is very well played
and recorded. At bargain price it is
an obvious choice. This is a disc which
will surprise those who only know the
first version and it is well worth hearing.
There is a huge choice of recordings
of this version of the Fourth Symphony. During the 1960s and 1970s
Walter, Klemperer, Jochum, Haitink, Böhm and Karajan all
made recordings in sound which is at least acceptable. Klempererís
is the most idiosyncratic, see review.
His is also the least "Romantic", adopting fast tempi
for each movement except the scherzo (which is slower than normal).
Jochumís is also a very personal approach but his 1965 reading
with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is more successful than
his Dresden remake and conveys a great feeling of mystery when
needed. Bruno Walter was undoubtedly a great Bruckner conductor
(but under-recorded as such) and his 1960 recording with the Columbia
Symphony Orchestra has fine sound for the period. Haitinkís Amsterdam
version dates from 1965 is perfectly satisfactory but eclipsed
in every respect by his Vienna reading of 1985: see review.
DG recording of 1975 has excellent playing
from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
but sound is not ideally clear. Preferable
in almost every respect, and a plausible
first choice, is Karl Böhmís 1973
Vienna recording for Decca Ė this has
a rightness about it which shines throughout.
For a different experience to any other
version, Celibidacheís 1988 live reading
from Munich is worth hearing. It is
very slow, particularly in the finale
(at 79 minutes in total it only just
squeezes on a single disc Ė 65 minutes
is about par), but the concentration
is extraordinary and there is a real
sense of occasion.
Tennstedt recorded the symphony for
EMI with the Berlin Philharmonic in
1982. So far as we know this, and the
Eighth, were the only commercial recordings
he made of Bruckner, which is a shame.
In the Fourth, aided by superbly rich
and sonorous playing from the BPO, he
conveys the majesty and, where appropriate,
the mystery of the work very convincingly.
While this may not displace Böhm
or Wand, this is still an impressive
Wandís 1998 recording is also with the
BPO. Itís a superb achievement, an exalted
performance that is majestic and unhurried.
The Berlin orchestra plays magnificently.
This is one of the finest readings of
this symphony ever committed to disc.
reservations musicologists may have
about the preceding works, no one seems
to doubt that from the Fifth onwards
Brucknerís symphonies are masterpieces.
One could even argue that the fifth
is the finest and it seems very sad
that Bruckner never heard it (the first
performance was given in 1894 in Graz
but Bruckner was too ill to attend).
The opening movement is both massive
and bold. The adagio begins with a memorable
theme for the oboe playing two against
three for the string accompaniment,
and also contains a striking second
subject for the cellos and basses. At
the beginning of the finale Bruckner
briefly recapitulates the preceding
movements à la Beethovenís Ninth
and, later in this movement, the entry
and integration of a magnificent brass
chorale is one of his most stunning
achievements. Although there are Haas
and Nowak editions of the Fifth they
are essentially identical. There is
just one real issue of editions here
and that is the existence of a now discredited
version made by Franz Schalk in which
the magnificent finale is cut and re-orchestrated.
This version has been recorded a few
times notably by Knappertsbusch and
quite recently by Leon Botstein. Our
tolerance of different versions does
not extend this far and, unless you
want to hear them for interest, we suggest
that these recordings should be avoided.
1967 reading with the New Philharmonia
Orchestra is slightly disappointing.
He takes a massive approach but, overall,
it doesnít quite hang together and this
is not as fine as his Sixth (see below).
Haitinkís 1971 reading from Amsterdam
is excellent but, as for the Fourth
Symphony, it is not as fine as the Vienna
remake from 1988. Haitinkís later versions
of these two symphonies are available
coupled together at bargain price -
Amongst more recent recordings, Giuseppe
Sinopoliís rendition from Dresden in
1999 stands out. Stated to be a live
recording, and with excellent sound,
there is no evidence of an audience
but this reading is superbly concentrated
and lacking in idiosyncrasy (perhaps
unusually for Sinopoli).
is an epic, live reading, captured at
the Henry Wood Promenade concerts in
1971. Itís now available on BBC Legends
(though we have not heard that transfer).
The Fifth is, arguably, the most intellectually
rigorous of the canon and a successful
performance needs a seasoned Brucknerian
at the helm. Horenstein is just the
man for the job. He plays the second
movement at a nice flowing tempo and
his command and control of the vast
finale compels admiration. This is a
very fine recording indeed and, in the
opinion of JQ (who has not heard the
Sinopoli version), a first choice.
See reviews by John
Wandís Cologne version from 1974
is, it seems, his very first Bruckner recording. He displays a
mastery of the score, especially in handling transitions. Enjoyment
of the performance is limited slightly by a rather enthusiastic
brass section, whose playing is somewhat shrill at times. Wandís
control is especially evident in the massive finale. This is a
good performance but his 1989 account with the NDR Sinfonieorchester
is even finer, not least because the playing is better. Thereís
not a great deal to choose between the versions in interpretative
terms but the later performance also benefits from a warmer, more
pleasing recording and is the preferable Wand account. See
often in his Naxos cycle, Tintner is
courageous in the breadth of some of
his tempi. His 1996 version takes some
4 minutes longer than Horensteinís.
The studio-made recording doesnít have
quite the same electricity as Horensteinís
but, like the rest of his cycle, the
reading is deeply considered and completely
idiomatic. It is excellent value and
unlikely to disappoint.
Sixth is the shortest and lightest of
the later works and Bruckner thought
it was his finest. Sadly, today is probably
heard and recorded less often than the
others. The composer did hear the middle
movements (the adagio is marvellous)
but the whole work was not performed
until 1899, when Mahler conducted. There
are no important issues relating to
editions here Ė Haas and Nowak are essentially
1964 reading is generally highly thought
of, a view we share. It has a rugged
quality but is less idiosyncratic than
some of his other Bruckner recordings.
The sound is pretty decent. Haitinkís
recording is underrated and, in our
view on a par with Klemperer. See review.
To Günter Wandís 1976 reading with
the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra
we can only give a qualified recommendation.
The first movement seems rushed - see
for more details. More recently Sir
Colin Davis has recorded the work live
with the London Symphony Orchestra.
We have rather differing views of this
reading. For PW, in terms of performance
and sound this is generally excellent,
only a scherzo which drags prevents
this from being a top choice. JQ, however,
would not rank it ahead of either Klempererís
rather gaunt reading or Haitinkís warmer
vision. Furthermore, the rather suffocating,
close acoustic of the Barbican Centre
(often an issue in the LSO Live series)
results in the brass being too dominant.
recording is, uniquely in his cycle,
with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
It was the first to be recorded and
dates from 1995. The outer movements
of this work are very hard to pace.
Tintner seems to judge both movements
very well. He also conveys nobility
in the adagio and his tempo for the
scherzo is infinitely preferable to
Colin Davisís trudge. The New Zealand
orchestra may not be quite in the LSO
league but they play very well and are
recorded in a much more sympathetic
acoustic. This seems to be a clear bargain
Seventh Symphony gave Bruckner his first
taste of success when it was first performed
under Nikisch in 1884, although his
critic Hanslick was not appeased. It
is a marvellous work with many contrasts,
containing some of the sunniest and
darkest of the composerís music in the
opening two movements followed by a
fantastic scherzo. The last movement
lacks the massive proportions of the
Eighth but nevertheless brings a satisfying
conclusion. The biggest issue relating
to editions seems to relate to the inclusion
of a cymbal clash at the climax of the
adagio. This was originally suggested
by Nikisch and added to the score but
Bruckner seems to have been uncertain
about it (although there is no doubt
about the inclusion of the clash at
the analogous point of the Eighth symphony).
The Haas edition does not include the
cymbal clash (whereas Nowak does) but
some conductors, such as Karajan, have
used Haas and then added the clash.
It is a momentary event in a symphony
lasting between 60 and 70 minutes and,
for us, is not a major consideration
in choosing a recording.
1939 performance with the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra turns out to be something
of a curateís egg. Its particular distinction
lies in an extremely spacious reading
of the great Adagio. Sadly, the
rest of the symphony does not come off
so well and the recorded sound, from
Telefunken originals, requires some
tolerance. See review.
made two recording with the Amsterdam
Concertgebouw. His 1966 reading (which
was included in the complete set) is
generally quicker than in 1978, especially
in the first movement. Only the earlier
version seems to be currently available
(on a Philips Duo) Ė see review
but this is a pity since the 1978 is
preferable and one of the finest versions
we have heard.
Wandís reading 1980 from Cologne is
well-played and a very authoritative
interpretation which can be recommended
confidently. The re-mastered sound is
very good. See review
for details. Karajanís 1989 reading
with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
was his last recording. There are many
splendid things, including the recorded
sound but also something a bit detached
and the very end does not quite hang
together. This is not really on a par
with his last recording of the Eighth
and his Berlin readings from the 1970s
may be preferable (although not in terms
of sound quality). Georg Tintnerís 1997
version with the Royal Scottish National
Orchestra is amongst the best available
and an obvious bargain choice.
Maria Giulini recorded the Seventh in
1986 for DG with the Vienna Philharmonic.
We havenít heard that account but there
is a 1982 reading with the Philharmonia
on BBC Legends. This is described as
being of the Haas edition but this may
be incorrect since Giulini apparently
used Nowak editions for his DG recordings
of all the three last symphonies. The
warm lyricism of this symphony suits
Giulini very well. A sense of line is
always a hallmark of his conducting
and this is very apparent here making
us regret there is no recording by him
of the Fourth, so far as we know. The
adagio is profound with a grave nobility
that is impressive. The climax, with
cymbal clash, is finely achieved after
which the coda glows nobly. There is
an appealing freshness in Giuliniís
handling of the finale though a touch
more breadth would have been welcome
in the concluding peroration where there
are also a few small brass "fluffs".
blemishes are heard in Günter Wandís
1999 reading, which was taken from concert
performances with the peerless Berlin
Philharmonic. This is a most impressive
recording, characterized by long phrases,
each one given just the right amount
of time to breathe. The adagio is patrician
and elevated. The climax of that movement
in which the cymbal is eschewed is marvellously
built after which the coda is profoundly
satisfying. Wand plays the finale splendidly,
pacing it with wisdom. The movement
is crowned by a peroration of golden
splendour. With excellent recorded sound
this seems to be a clear first choice.
8th Symphony is in C minor
with the adagio in D flat placed third.
The first two movements both last about
15 minutes, the adagio is immensely
long-breathed and takes about 25 minutes
and the finale takes at least 20 minutes.
This is the only symphony in which he
used a harp, to great effect, notably
in the trio and adagio. The work was
first performed in Vienna under Richter
in 1892 and was an immediate success.
started work on the 8th in
1884 and it was complete in 1887. He
sent the score to one of his admirers,
the conductor Hermann Levi and was distraught
at his less than enthusiastic response.
Nevertheless he spent three years revising
the symphony in many ways. Most importantly,
he omitted his traditional "blaze
up" coda of the first movement
and introduced a quite ending. He also
completely replaced the trio in the
second movement. The second version
of 1890 is almost invariably played
in preference to the first version but
there is a complicating factor of editions.
Robert Haas produced a new edition of
8th symphony. He believed
that a few of revisions made between
1887 and 1890 were disadvantageous to
the structure and/or the specific suggestions
of others, notably Joseph Schalk. He
therefore added some passages from the
first edition which had been excised
back into the second version. In 1955
Leopold Nowak published the second version
of the 8th as Bruckner left
it. In 1972, Nowak also published the
first version of the score. Haasís edition
is probably still the most widely played
and certainly the most recorded version
of the work.
Waller's more detailed article
on this symphony.
version of 1887
recording is one of only four that have
yet been made using Nowakís edition
of the first version of 1887. Tintner
adopts rather slow tempi throughout
and the adagio lasts for over half an
hour. The playing of the National Symphony
Orchestra of Ireland and recorded sound
version of 1890
Haitinkís first recording of the 8th
was made in 1969 and is, at just under
74 minutes, the fastest reading we have
heard. It has both vigour and structural
coherence, and is very well played and
recorded. His later recording with the
Vienna Philharmonic runs for over 83
minutes and is a grander conception
in particularly good sound (see review).
Karajan made three studio versions
of the 8th (in 1957, 1975 and 1988) plus a version
made in 1944 in amazingly good sound, of which the first movement
has not survived. There is also a live version recorded in Vienna
in 1957. See review.
Comparison of the timings of his
two 1957 recordings suggests that Karajan exhibited more urgency
when performing live. Each movement was slower in the studio recording
and overall the difference amounted to more than six and a half
minutes. Otherwise, Karajanís conception did not vary dramatically
over the years. The 1988 reading with Vienna Philharmonic is clearly
the most desirable. It was one of Karajanís last recordings and
was first issued around the time of death in 1989. The music making
has the quality of affecting you in a way that canít easily be
described. In places there is an "earthiness" that is
not normally part of Karajanís make-up; he had a special affection
for the work and surely knew that this was his last time. The
playing and sound are marvellous throughout.
made his recording with the Vienna Philharmonic
live at St. Florian (where the young
Bruckner was a chorister, later returned
as organist and is buried) on the 100th
anniversary of his death in 1996. It
seems that he had not previously recorded
any Bruckner nor conducted this symphony.
He brings surprising freshness and great
coherence to the work, and his reading
is highly recommendable on CD or DVD
video (see review
of the CD).
Wandís final recording was made live
with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
in 2001. It was one of his last recordings
and a fitting memorial. Wand and Karajan
had little in common but their last
readings are not dramatically dissimilar
in overall approach. Wandís tempi are
slightly broader and he brings rather
more humility and humanity (see review).
Reginald Goodallís reading comes from
a 1969 Henry Wood Promenade concert
and is issued by BBC Legends. The first
movement is extremely broad. Indeed,
at 18í15" itís the longest we know.
Unfortunately, this is one case where
the breadth is just too great. For one
thing the BBC Symphony Orchestra doesnít
sound wholly comfortable. The adagio
is intense and concentrated and here
Goodallís basic tempo is more "conventional".
The finale is also taken broadly but
the pacing is rather more convincing
than was the case in the first movement.
Itís interesting to hear a great Wagnerian
in Bruckner but the reading of the first
movement prevents a general recommendation.
reservations about Jascha Horensteinís
1970 recording which also comes from
the Proms. Itís also on BBC Legends
(by our reckoning that label has issued
at least four recordings of this symphony).
This performance displays similar virtues
to those that distinguish Horensteinís
Fifth (see above). Above all, structural
command and blazing commitment are evident.
The adagio is particularly searching
and the finale majestic. This is a rather
special performance and an attractive
proposition for collectors especially
as itís coupled in a 2 CD set with a
fine account of the Ninth (see below).
version is also a bit special. Yet again
itís on BBC Legends. This is a concert
performance from May 1970. This was
to be Barbirolliís last London concert,
for he died just a few weeks later.
Itís a reading of astonishing intensity
and passion. It lasts a "mere"
74 minutes but the music never sounds
unduly rushed, despite the urgency of
Barbirolliís vision. The Hallé
Orchestra plays with tremendous conviction
and the few slips can be readily forgiven.
This is red-blooded Bruckner and certainly
not a "safe" library choice
but itís a performance that demands
attention and respect.
1993 account with the NDR Sinfonieorchester
is also a live performance and it is
very fine. No one buying it would be
disappointed. However, his exceptional
Berlin reading (see above) is finer
in terms of playing and recording quality
and that is the Wand version to go for.
studio recording was made for Vox with
Pro Musica Orchestra in 1955. The sound
is mediocre for the period and the orchestra
not in the same class as the Berlin
or Vienna Philharmonics. And yet there
is no doubt that this is a great interpretation.
Horensteinís conception of the work
is seamless and tempi are perfectly
judged. Although he does not linger
in the first movement, an essential
sense of mystery is retained. His adagio
is perfectly poised, simply ethereal
at the close and the finale very fine.
Giuliniís 1983 live version with
the Philharmonia Orchestra is a wholly dedicated and masterly
performance by a great conductor at the height of his powers.
A year later Giulini made a studio version with the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra which we have not heard but it has been generally well-received.
specialist interest is a 1972 live version
made by the Boston Symphony Orchestra
under William Steinberg during the third
and last season of his brief tenure
(1969-72) as the orchestraís Chief Conductor.
The edition used is stated in the documentation
to be Nowak but with some (unspecified)
amendments by Steinberg. We note, however,
that the discography cited above lists
it as being the 1892 Lienau edition.
Itís a good, well paced and powerful
reading, well played by the Bostonians,
and as this under-rated conductor didnít
record the Eighth commercially itís
good to have this available. Unfortunately,
however, itís only very expensively
available at present in the BSOís Symphony
Hall Centennial Celebration boxed set,
available direct from the BSO.
Edition of 1892
Knappertsbuschís 1955 Munich recording
is so quick (only just over 70 minutes in total) that he rushes
the symphony off its feet. The playing is scrappy and untidy and
this is a version that ill serves the generally high reputation
of the conductor. The only thing that seems to be going for it
is the potential interest value of the edition used i.e. the one
was used in the very first performance of the symphony although
it should be recognized that has now been essentially superseded
by those of Haas and Nowak. See review.
dedicated his Ninth Symphony to God
and worked on it for several years before
his death in 1896. Unfortunately he
was initially distracted by what seem
to be unnecessary revisions of earlier
symphonies, in particular the first.
The Ninth is complete as far the end
of the third movement adagio. Although
it is clear that Bruckner intended a
finale on the scale of the Eighth Symphony,
sketches show that it was a long way
from complete. As for Schubertís Unfinished
Symphony, a performance as far as the
end of the slow movement somehow seems
complete and it is apposite that the
composerís work should end with an adagio.
Realizing that he wasnít going to complete
the finale, Bruckner contemplated the
use of his Te Deum as the finale.
This would certainly have involved
some transposition; its key is C whereas
the symphony is in D minor (a key it
shares with the Nullte and third
symphonies). The opening movement is
a massive inspiration which unfolds
naturally in long paragraphs. The scherzo
is full of demons but has a greatly
contrasting trio. The adagio is hard
to describe and seems to be not from
this world. It opens with a huge and
impassioned upward leap on the strings
and ends with a soft brass chorale which
brings a great feeling of repose. There
are no important issues relating to
editions used in recordings.
Walterís 1959 recording is very fine
in every way and a possible top choice
despite its age. Haitink made two recordings
in Amsterdam, in 1965 and 1981. The
former is taut and logical, the latter
more ethereal with generally slightly
slower tempi and top-notch sound. Karajanís
1975 reading from Berlin is amongst
his finest Bruckner recordings but,
as with the Fourth Symphony, the sound
lacks a bit of impact, even in comparison
to Walterís recording.
Wandís finest reading of this work was
also made in Berlin and dates from 1998.
This is excellent but perhaps not as
fine as his last version of the Eighth.
Quinn and Patrick
A live recording by Giulini with
the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1996 is available
on DVD and highly recommendable. See review.
recording, captured live at the Henry
Wood Promenade concerts in 1966 is on
BBC Legends, yoked with his reading
of Mahlerís Seventh. Like his reading
of the Eighth (see above) this has great
urgency. However, the performance is
not of quite the same stature. In particular
there is a worrying tendency to accelerate
into climaxes in the first movement.
It must be said that the recording quality
leaves something to be desired. The
strings sound rather thin and the brass
tend to be too dominant. Also, at least
as captured by the microphones, the
internal balance of the orchestra is
not always ideal. Barbirolliís approach
to the adagio has typical nobility and
sincerity but realistically the appeal
of this performance is limited.
Horensteinís 1970 Proms performance
is a reading of undoubted stature. The
orchestra (the BBC Symphony) plays much
better for him than do the Hallé
for Barbirolli. Itís noteworthy too
that Horenstein takes 61 minutes for
the work against Barbirolliís 53 minutes.
The first movement is grand and spacious
while the adagio glows. This latter
movement is put across with total conviction
by Horenstein and his players. This
is a masterly reading by a great Brucknerian
and the coupling of this Ninth and the
Eighth discussed above is a mandatory
purchase for Bruckner collectors.
1976 EMI recording with the Chicago
Symphony Orchestra is currently available
only in a (highly recommendable) box
of 4 CDs of his recordings with that
orchestra. This is a most impressive
reading, distinguished above all by
Giuliniís care for the musical line.
The concluding adagio has all the spiritual
elevation that one would expect from
this great conductor. He is supported
by fabulous playing from the CSO. A
most desirable version.
1993 version is a live performance made
with the NDR Sinfonieorchester. The
orchestra plays well for him though,
unsurprisingly, they canít quite match
the Berlin Philharmonicís tonal lustre.
This version has all the command of
structure and balance that one has come
to expect from this very fine Brucknerian.
Once again, Wandís final, Berlin thoughts
are preferable but this NDR version
is certainly not a second best; itís
a useful alternative.
recording is a fitting culmination to
his cycle (though it was not actually the
last of the symphonies that he recorded).
There's a massive integrity to Tintner's
Bruckner in general and this Ninth is
no exception. His performance, which
is well played by the Royal Scottish
National Orchestra, is perhaps
a bit more rugged than the visions
of, say, Horenstein or Giulini but it
is wholly convincing.
of complete cycles
cycle potentially has advantages in
terms of cost and consistency of approach
but is also likely to have "ups
and downs". Interpretatively, Brucknerís
music can be approached in many different
ways and that is without even considering
questions relating to the different
versions of the works. For these reasons,
one complete cycle will not be enough
for serious admirers of this composer
and some supplementation is likely to
be required. Even the definition of
"complete" is debatable in
Bruckner! But we will take a conservative
view that inclusion of at least Nos.
1-9 represents a complete cycle.
Jochumís Dresden cycle for EMI was made
between 1975 and 1980 and includes Nos.
1-9, each on a single disc and in each
case representing Brucknerís final thoughts
on the works. Packaged in a slimline
box, this is probably the cheapest way
of acquiring the works and Jochum has
a considerable reputation as a Brucknerian
(there is also an earlier Jochum cycle
on DG, of which we have heard little).
The sound is not ideal, being balanced
rather forwardly and Jochumís interpretations
are interventionist. Whilst there are
many wonderful moments, his free approach
to tempi will put this out of court
for some listeners. In particular, crescendo
and accelerando frequently go hand-in-hand,
adding excitement but ultimately being
counterintuitive to the flow of the
music. Perhaps the worst example is
on the approach to the climax of the
adagio of the 8th Symphony.
This is a cycle that many will want
to hear but is not recommendable as
a primary choice.
Tintnerís cycle also includes Symphonies
00 and 0 and is very economical. See
of the whole set. In each case Tintner
goes for Brucknerís first thoughts,
except in the Fourth Symphony (and No.
0 for which they are no longer extant)
where he uses the final version of 1881.
Between us we have heard all these readings
except the Fourth and this is a most
recommendable cycle. Some of Tintnerís
tempi are rather slow (for example the
first movement of the Third and the
adagio of the Eighth) but there are
many insights and marvellous control
of structures. Tintnerís reading of
the Second Symphony is particularly
special. Various orchestras and locations
are involved but the playing and sound
are generally excellent. A cycle which
does not include the 1890 version of
the Eighth will surely require supplementation
and it is slightly odd to have all the
first versions except the Fourth. Adding
Inbalís recording of the 1874 edition
of that symphony plus Haitinkís Philips
Duo of the Third and Eighth would be
a relatively inexpensive way of covering
all the essential ground in terms of
editions (again there are major differences
between the 1877 version of the Third
used by Haitink and the original score).
With these supplements, this would be
our recommendation for a starter collection
of Bruckner symphonies and (including
the supplements) it should currently
cost no more than £50.
Haitinkís Amsterdam Concertgebouw recordings
were made between 1963 and 1972. He
subsequently successfully re-made the
Seventh and Ninth with same orchestra
and then recorded Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 8
with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
The complete cycle of the first recordings
has been issued on CD but seems to have
been recently withdrawn. The VPO recordings
and some of the Amsterdam recordings
are available as Philips Duos (sadly,
Haitinkís version of No. 2 is not [yet?]
included). The original cycle is a major
achievement with straightforward interpretations
and good sound. Haitinkís readings of
Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 6 are particularly
impressive and, re-listening to the
1963 recording of the Third recently,
PW was surprised to find himself wondering
if it wasnít just as fine as the marvellous
1988 recording with the VPO. Tempi are
often relatively fast but it could be
argued that the general tendency to
play Bruckner more slowly nowadays is
not necessarily beneficial. No. 0 is
included and Haitink uses the Haas editions.
If and when it returns, this would be
a good general recommendation for a
Skrowaczewski has recorded all the symphonies
(including Nos. 00 and 0) with the Saarbrucken
Radio Symphony Orchestra. In general
he opts for Brucknerís last thoughts.
We have heard little of this cycle but
on the evidence of his fine recording
of the Third Symphony and, taking into
account Terry Barfootís review
it would seem to be considerably preferable
to Jochumís Dresden cycle. The individual
symphonies were initially issued on
Arte Nova at super-budget price but
now they seem to have become more expensive
and, at the time of writing, this set
costs about £90.
other great Bruckner conductors have
also made complete cycles which are
currently available Ė Wand and Karajan.
In both cases these include Nos. 1-9
only and are largely based on the Haas
editions. Other similarities are that
neither conductor really had much time
for the first three symphonies and that
they subsequently made some finer recordings
of the later symphonies. Both cycles
are relatively expensive and, based
on what we have heard, neither seems
to have top-drawer sound. For these
reasons, whilst suggesting that some
recordings by both these conductors
are amongst the finest ever made, their
complete cycles might well be passed
over. There are other complete cycles
by Chailly, Solti and Barenboim. Except
for Chaillyís readings of Nos. 0 and
1, we have not heard these but reviews
we have seen suggest that they are unlikely
to be superior to those discussed above.
we give one principal recommendation
for each of the early symphonies (as
far as No 3) and two choices for the
later works. It is worth reiterating
here that we make no pretence to these
choices being based on a complete review
of available recordings - and availability
may change over time so we have disregarded
it as a factor in our choices. These
choices merely represent what we believe
to be the finest recorded performances
we have yet heard; sound quality was
not taken into account.
No. 00 Tintner (1998)
No. 0 Tintner (1996)
No. 1 Haitink (1972)
No. 2 Giulini (1974)
No. 3 Haitink (1988)
No. 4 Böhm (1973), Wand
No. 5 Horenstein (1971), Sinopoli
No. 6 Klemperer (1964), Haitink
No. 7 Haitink, (1978) Wand (1999)
No. 8 Karajan (1988), Wand (2001)
No. 9 Walter (1959), Wand
with a nod to Nick Hornbyís book High
Fidelity, our top Five Bruckner
symphony recordings, in order of preference,
Gunter Wand 8th (2001)
Carlo Maria Giulini 2nd (1974)
Giuseppe Sinopoli 5th (1999)
Bruno Walter 9th (1959)
Karl Böhm 4th (1973)
Günter Wand 8th (2001)
Karl Böhm 4th (1973)
Jascha Horenstein 5th (1971)
Günter Wand 4th (1998)
Herbert von Karajan 8th (1988)