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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (Haas Edition) (1884-90) [80:00]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
rec. live, Stiftskirche St. Florian, Linz, 21-22 September 1996
International Brucknerfest 1996, DDD
Directed for video by Brian Large



As far as I can tell, this is exactly the same DVD as that released by TDK a few years ago and reviewed in these columns. Unfortunately, it is now shorn of its 15-minute interview with Boulez which, whatever your views on such matters, is surely a black mark. In fact, there are no extras at all, which is a pity, for generally the reason to buy a DVD over the original CD is to have background information, interviews, rehearsal footage, the sorts of items that ‘flesh out’ the music and performance. Given that the sound quality is markedly worse than the audio CD, with lower levels and less detail, plus a higher price tag, is there any reason at all to recommend it?

Well, in one important respect, there is. As has been pointed out many times, Bruckner’s huge symphonic structures are seen as ‘cathedrals in sound’, so to witness a performance in Bruckner’s own burial place, and a spectacular one at that, is very moving. The magnificent St. Florian church is so much better a venue for this music than a modern, sterile hall, and though there is only so much you can do with a filmed concert, Brian Large’s experienced and sensitive camera knows instinctively when to leave the musicians and slowly pan around the various murals and frescoes which adorn its ceilings and walls. There is also the thrill of watching an orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic playing at close quarters, something not many of us have the chance to do. Then there is Boulez himself, all eagle eyes and economic, batonless gestures. To see such spare, unhistrionic conducting get such wonderful results is almost worth it.

The performance itself has received much praise over the last ten years, and I would undoubtedly echo that. I’ve had the CD a few years and rarely reach for any other recording these days. Boulez’s famously clear-headed, analytical approach never produces coldness or sterility. Instead we have a completely fresh look at the score, one which may be less ‘spiritual’ than some famous readings, but which has a real sense of  clarity and purpose. His superbly terraced orchestral balance allows the famous climaxes a true sense of place in the organic whole, and the tempi strike me as spot-on, with no hurrying and plenty of breathing space where required; as in the adagio. He also lets us hear inner voices without too much string saturation - harps, woodwind etc. are all beautifully clear but we still have that Bruckner ‘glow’ that is essential. As if that weren’t enough, it all fits comfortably onto one disc, so no tiresome break for the finale.

The bottom line is that given the lack of extras and only reasonable, rather than excellent, audio quality, this is hard to recommend over the CD, especially with that higher price tag. It will probably be of most interest to real Bruckner aficionados, who will love - as I did - the very special setting and watching the world’s greatest Bruckner orchestra at work, but ordinary music lovers should stick to the CD.

Tony Haywood

see also previous reviews of this performance by Marc Bridle, John Phillips and Terry Barfoot





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