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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E (1881-3) [67:30]
((i) Allegro moderato [21:33] (ii) Adagio: Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam [22:26] (iii) Scherzo: Sehr schnell – Trio: Etwas langsamer [10:30] (iv) Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht schnell [13:01])
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
rec. live, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, Chicago, 10-12, 15 May 2007. DDD
CSO RESOUND CSOR901704 [67:31]


Bernard Haitink became principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2006, some thirty years after he first appeared with them. Like many of the world’s other major orchestras they are now venturing into “own-label” territory. This is the second release on the new label, the first being a recording of Mahler’s Third, also conducted by Haitink.

Both orchestra and conductor have outstanding Brucknerian credentials. The US premičre of this work was given in Chicago in 1886 just two years after the composer’s first triumph in Leipzig, and the orchestra recorded for Decca a complete cycle of the symphonies under Solti. As for Haitink, he made his name in Amsterdam with a complete recorded cycle dating from 1963-72 and then re-recorded some of works in Amsterdam and others in Vienna. Both his versions of the Seventh were made in Amsterdam – in 1966 and 1978 – and they are quite different. The latter reading is broader, more deeply-felt, better-recorded and finer in just about every way. It is also long-deleted whilst the 1966 effort continues to be available on a Philips Duo (see review) and in the complete series (Philips 4756740).

The present performance is a conglomerate of multiple live performances – the dates suggest as many as four although perhaps there is some rehearsal material or post-concert patching? I don’t think it is possible to tell or that there is anything wrong with such methods. Indeed this sounds like a live performance but with hardly any intrusion by the audience.

Haitink’s interpretation has not changed greatly over thirty years. The trend towards broadening of tempi has continued but it is marginal. He allows himself even greater expressive freedom, as I have often felt he tends to do in live performance compared to the studio. Overall, it is about as good a version of this work as I have ever heard. Haitink is equally at home in all four movements and conjures simply fabulous playing from all sections of the orchestra. There is a natural flow, and inevitability, about the way he deals with Bruckner’s large structures and sheer magic in the transitions, especially in the first movement. The adagio is not as elegiac as some (e.g. Karajan) but I think the farewell to Wagner can be overplayed and it certainly isn’t here. The scherzo is a little more analytical and less rustic than before while the finale brings a truly fitting peroration. Incidentally, Richard Osborne in the Gramophone suggests that Haitink is “grandstanding” at the very end, a comment I find hard to understand.

The recorded sound presents an excellent perspective with clarity and the documentation is reasonable for an upper mid-price issue. No information is given regarding the edition used but it matters little for this symphony. As previously in Haitink’s recordings, the debatable cymbal clash is given at the climax of the slow movement and magnificent it sounds too.

With regard to competition, this issue leaves Loughran live in Aarhus well behind (review). It is also preferable to Karajan’s 1970 studio recording (review) and a plausible current top choice for the work. I am not sure that it is a greater recording than Haitink’s 1978 version but that is irrelevant to prospective purchasers at the moment.

A disc which celebrates a potentially very fruitful musical marriage. This should be heard by all Brucknerians.

Patrick C Waller



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