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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1884-1896) [66: 32]
Te Deum in D major (1862?)* [37:14]
*Bertha Trautmann (soprano); Karl Heinz Klinsmann (tenor); Josef Rumenigge (bass)
Hans-Martin Peters (organ)
Sinfonieorchester und *Chor des Brucknerfreunden, Münchengladbach/Otto Beckenbauer
Recorded: Markuskirche, Munich, 14-17 April, 2005 DDD
SAXON SXN002 [66:32 + 37:14]

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The composer Anton Bruckner died 110 years ago. Perhaps it’s not surprising that celebrations of the anniversaries of the births of Mozart and of Shostakovich are attracting the lion’s share of attention in 2006 but it would be a pity if Bruckner didn’t receive his due also. The septuagenarian Bruckner scholar and conductor, Professor Otto Beckenbauer, has made it his life’s work to research the life and œuvre of the Austrian master and it’s fitting that recordings of perhaps the two most significant fruits of his labours should be released in this anniversary year by the new independent German label, Saxon. My colleague, Patrick Waller, has reviewed the other CD.

It's long been known that towards the end of his life, as a counsel of desperation, Bruckner suggested to some of his acolytes that his Te Deum might serve as the finale of his 9th symphony, which he came to realise he would not live to complete. Scholars have often pointed out that this would have been a wholly unsatisfactory completion as the Te Deum is in C major and the symphony is in D minor. However, after several years of research Professor Beckenbauer has now established to his complete satisfaction that Bruckner was referring not to the C major Te Deum but to an earlier setting in D major. This at least removes the objection of a poor fit with the symphony in terms of tonality. Beckenbauer has now made the world première recording of the D major Te Deum and, intriguingly, has coupled it with a recording of the familiar three extant movements of the Ninth. This enables us to judge for ourselves if the pairing of these two pieces constitutes a satisfactory whole.

The manuscript of the Te Deum, dating from the early 1860s, was discovered in the archives of the monastery of St. Anselm in the Austrian Tyrol. Wisely, Beckenbauer kept this discovery away from public knowledge until he had completed the complex process of authenticating the manuscript. As he explains in a lengthy and very detailed booklet note, the authentication has involved the use of sophisticated carbon dating techniques to determine the age of the paper and ink. Three separate graphologists have also independently verified that the manuscript is indeed in Bruckner’s own hand.

As near as Beckenbauer can date the score, by reference to Bruckner’s other papers and to contemporary correspondence, the Te Deum was probably composed in about 1862, though there is no evidence that it was ever heard in Bruckner’s lifetime. This places it just before the symphonies, since the ‘Study’ Symphony in F minor dates from 1863. Perhaps more relevant is where the work sits in the chronology of Bruckner’s choral music. The first of his three significant Mass settings, the Mass in D minor, dates from 1864 and I have to say that the D minor Mass represents a fairly major advance on the earlier Te Deum.

The Te Deum opens with a fairly conventional and, frankly, four-square chorus. The trouble with this movement, I fear, is that the dynamics are pretty unvaried, at least in this performance. The whole movement scarcely drops below forte and the choral writing is entirely homophonic. It’s a confident opening, to be sure, but it lacks the grandeur and epic sweep of the comparable section in the more familiar C major setting. There follows a rather touching ‘Te ergo quaesumus’, which is a duet for the soprano and tenor soloists. Tenor, Karl Heinz Klinsmann, makes a splendid impression here. His is an heroic, ringing voice, a genuine heldentenor, and he also phrases imaginatively. His partner, Bertha Trautmann, can’t quite match this level of accomplishment, I fear. She is clearly a dependable singer but her contribution is, in comparison with Klinsmann’s, a touch one-dimensional. I’d describe her singing as the vocal equivalent of a safe pair of hands.

‘Aeterna fac’ is another choral movement and here Beckenbauer and his singers shape the music with pleasing light and shade, benefiting from good support in the orchestra. The section is mainly subdued and supplicatory and I thought the performance caught the mood of somewhat naïve prayerfulness rather well. The bass soloist has the spotlight in a forceful setting of the words ‘Salvum fac Domine’ and Josef Rumenigge, a singer of genuine presence, projects the music powerfully. Finally the choir and orchestra have an extended fugue – a little too extended, I fear – at ‘In te, Domine, speravi’, The work ends in a majestic, if rather obvious, fortissimo blaze of brass, with the impressive sonority of the organ of the Markuskirche underpinning the whole ensemble.

As I indicated earlier Professor Beckenbauer may have solved the issue of tonality in unearthing a choral finale that would sit with the three movements of the incomplete Ninth symphony. Whether he has given us a satisfactorily coherent musical solution is another matter. To be frank, I think the D major Te Deum does not work particularly well as a finale to the symphony. The tonality may be suitable but there is too great a stylistic gulf between the symphony and the earlier choral work to make this a satisfying union. If Beckenbauer’s dating work is correct Bruckner began work on the Ninth some twenty-five years after the completion of the Te Deum. To hear the two works one after another demonstrates what a musical journey Bruckner had travelled since the early 1860s.

What of Beckenbauer’s performance of the three completed movements of the Ninth? He gives a committed and well-argued reading, demonstrating his immersion over many years in Bruckner’s music, and he obtains some eloquent playing from his orchestra, with whom he clearly has a good rapport. However, in a work like this you need the control of long paragraphs and that indefinable something special – a sense of vision, if you like – that only a few select conductors possess. For all his merits I’m afraid that Beckenbauer can’t truly match the sweep, majesty and sense of rightness that one gets in this work from Haitink, Karajan, Walter or Wand. His tempi are unexceptional but it would be misleading to suggest that he has the knack of adroit pacing that the aforementioned conductors consistently display in Bruckner. Also he doesn’t really have their instinctive ability to grade and place a climax.

In all honesty, for the reasons given above I can’t say that what we have here is Bruckner’s ‘Choral’ Symphony. However, in its own right the Te Deum in D major is an interesting work that Brucknerians will want to hear. It may be, of course, that once we become familiar with this completion we will accept it more readily. The Te Deum has yet to achieve a public performance but surely that will soon take place now that this recording is in the public domain. Happily, Saxon have made it easier for us to become acquainted with this latest attempt to complete Bruckner’s Ninth by offering the set as a "twofer" at mid-price. The acoustics of the Markuskirche, a venue that will probably be new to most collectors, as it was to me, are somewhat resonant but the engineers have tamed them well and the performances are captured in pretty good sound. The documentation, which is in German and English, comprises detailed, if rather earnest, notes by the conductor and the full text of the Te Deum.

This is inevitably a somewhat specialist, not to say niche, issue but it’s good that it has been released now in time to mark the 110th anniversary of Bruckner’s death. Recommended for Bruckner collectors with an enquiring mind and an open ear.

John Quinn

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See also: Bruckner Symphonies: an Introduction and Review of Selected Recordings by Patrick Waller and John Quinn

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