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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1863) [65:26]  
Sinfonia Varsovia/Jerzy Semkow
rec. 2005, St Mary Magdalene Catholic Cathedral, Wroclaw. DDD
DUX 0668 [65:26]
Experience Classicsonline

Jerzy Semkow is a distinguished artist, now past eighty, whose career has taken him throughout the world but all too seldom to the UK. This is a cause for regret, since both this recording and others that I have encountered reveal him as a conductor of rare sensitivity and insight. I well remember first encountering him, on a Heliodor LP of Nielsen’s Violin Concerto and Helios Overture, with Tibor Varga and the Royal Danish Orchestra, in exemplary performances. The poetry he brought to that beautiful overture set a standard that I have never encountered since.
 
Semkow is a natural Brucknerian, possessed of a long-term vision and a logically unfolding symphonic perspective. Climaxes evolve naturally rather then being forced, while this live performance also features an orchestra in accord with this approach. The audience is well behaved, with few coughs and better still, no unwrapping of boiled sweets. Their presence is confirmed by the applause that follows after a healthy pause at the end.
 
The first movement doesn’t quite generate the incandescence of the very finest recordings, such as those by Karajan (EMI 4 76888-2) or, more recently, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Atma Classique SACD2 2512). Even so, it remains satisfying on its own terms, with the different elements of the score thoughtfully balanced and combined.
 
In Semkow’s performance the slow movement, as so often in this symphony, is the jewel in the crown. There is a solemn inevitability to the musical line, and the climaxes are carefully built, until the final apotheosis is capped by the debatable cymbal clash that raises the hackles of some listeners. There is room for either approach - with or without cymbal clash - in my book. I attempt to justify my open-mindedness by possessing some twenty different recorded performances. Another special aspect of the symphony is Bruckner’s coda to this movement, the ‘funeral music for the master’ that he added when he learned of the death of Wagner. The Polish orchestra’s brass and woodwind here are exemplary and the music is particularly atmospheric in terms of dynamic nuance.
 
The scherzo is given a lively rhythmic emphasis, while the trio relates to it both subtly and compellingly. The finale, as so often with this composer, is not the easiest movement to bring off, but its pacing here seems admirably designed to move the music through to a sonorous and satisfying conclusion. This may not be a top recommendation for Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony but it is undoubtedly a performance that is well worth hearing.
 
Terry Barfoot
 

 


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