Dal Segno proffers neither the dates nor the venue for this recording,
as if to imply that it's recent. But I suspect this is a licensing
of a Denon recording (C37-7126) of the mid-1980s, in which case
Dal Segno needn't have been so coy, given Denon's reputation for
superior engineering. And, while I've not heard the original issue
of this performance, the sound here is certainly impressive: clean
and present, and focused in the bass. The brass choir comes across
with impact and depth in tutti
- the trumpets' bright edge
adding brilliance and variety to the otherwise homogeneous sonority
- yet there's plenty of room around the lighter textures.
What may surprise people is the way Blomstedt's performance, first
and foremost, moves
, in keeping with the authentic Central
European Bruckner tradition, as documented in monaural recordings
and concert airchecks by Böhm, Knappertsbusch, and even Fürtwängler.
Among all the historical performances I've heard, only the slightly
later Celibidache conforms to the stereotype of a stodgy, glacial
manner in Bruckner. Blomstedt plays the music with an almost Italianate
flow and direction, without sacrificing the needed sense of space.
Within this mobile framework, Blomstedt's handling of small musical
units shows how they generate long-term coherence - the rhythmic
motif of the symphony's first tutti
, two quarter-notes
followed by three triplets, evidently serves as the unifying motto
for the entire score, returning in the Scherzo
's main theme
as well as in the Finale
's various thematic and secondary
fanfares. The conductor also brings out the neglected expressive
potential in other details, coloring the string sonority warmly
at 3:21 in the first movement, underlining the horn's low pedal-point
in the Andante
so it registers as a reflection of the theme.
Given this level of care, it's odd that Blomstedt allows some
softer phrases and units to get buried. The horn "answering" the
reeds at 12:35 of the first movement doesn't cut through, and
neither do the trombone "answers" at 17:12 (pianissimo
doesn't mean inaudible!); the violins lack character and presence
in general when playing softly, though there's no problem at louder
The first movement, as suggested earlier, is flowing and spacious;
the woodwinds' clean attack giving their statement of the theme
a cool Nordic feel. The springy tutti
, though sufficiently
weighted, feels lighter than usual, and there's a nice searching
quality, and a hushed anticipation, when the theme returns at
7:02. The slow movement maintains a similar flow - the marking,
after all, is Andante quasi allegretto
- with the sombre
pizzicato basses at 0:47 suggesting the "funeral march" atmosphere.
The cellos at the start are vibrant and cantabile
violas, in their featured passage at 3:16, are equally warm and
more translucent. Another clean woodwind attack, on the downward
phrase at 5:38, evokes an appropriate organlike effect. The theme
sounds more mournful when it returns at 8:20, with its woodwind
commentary, than the first time around.
The unbuttoned Scherzo
strikes a buoyant note, maintained
not only in the airborne hunting-horn calls, but in the "in-one"
quality of passages that traditionally relax, such as that at
0:31. The Trio
is phrased simply and serenely, though as
it proceeds, the strings, as in most other performances, tend
to creep ahead nervously.
Ensemble in the finale is less alert than in the preceding movements,
perhaps reflecting the last of a fatiguing set of sessions: the
landing at 2:18 isn't exactly together, and the edges of the recurring
s are slightly but noticeably blunted. Still,
few accounts match Blomstedt's fleet, affirmative performance
of this movement in projecting it in a single, inexorable line.
The trim bass quarter notes at the start immediately establish
an anticipatory mood; the second subject, at 2:59, is warm and
gently striding; the tutti
at 5:23, and those that follow,
are martial and ominous rather than, as in most renderings, portentous.
I liked the cheerful bustle of the passage at 16:55, but the tempo
seems marginally too fast for this level of busyness.
Blomstedt does score, however, in one of this movement's trickiest
moments: the third theme's chorale recap, allotted first to brasses,
then to strings. On many recordings, the strings' attempt to match
the sound of overblowing brass sounds unintentionally comical.
That the theme arrives organically from the preceding passages,
at 8:27, is notable enough; the conductor balances his full-throated
brasses carefully, and has the strings attack with a blooming
resonance that affords them a comparable tonal presence - nicely
Despite its popular-sounding nickname, the Romantic
proved elusive on disc, and the analog accounts that have held
up best over the long haul, may be hard to find on CD. Böhm's
Vienna studio recording (Decca) remains unique in its balance
of expressiveness and austerity. Barenboim's first account (DG),
originally conceived as a one-off rather than the launch of a
cycle, is weighty and affectionate, with the Chicago brass in
resplendent form. Bruno Walter's early-stereo version (Sony/CBS)
sings sweetly in the lyrical pages without shortchanging rugged
strength in the brassy climaxes. Blomstedt's isn't, perhaps, on
this exalted level, but it surely ranks just below those three
recordings, and, with its first-rate sound, it's a useful and
Stephen Francis Vasta