Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.7 in E major (1883) – Haas edition (1944) [64:10]
Staatskapelle Orchestra, Berlin/Kurt Masur
rec. 17 November 1967, Royal Festival Hall, London

Kurt Masur brought the Berlin Staatskapelle to the Royal Festival Hall in November 1967 to perform Bruckner’s Seventh in the conductor’s edition of choice, the 1944 Haas. This is now therefore the earliest commercially released Seventh by Masur, predating by seven years the Leipzig Gewandhaus Denon/RCA of 1974. It’s this and also the New York 1991 traversal that are the best known of his recordings of the work. However we must give serious consideration to the frisson of this live London performance.

Once again this source shows that a simple yet optimum recorded set-up can deal very nicely indeed with even a problem venue such as this. The dynamics of the first movement register with strong layering, for example, and the balance between string and wind choirs is equally assured. This is a result of sound conductorial balancing and adept microphone placement. The quiveringly malleable Staatskapelle strings are on good form and the brass has fine blended tone - powerful but not strident. Small untidiness in the lower brass in the second movement is of little overall matter. More importantly one feels things are held in reserve. All this is in the service of a fine and judiciously directed performance that tapers eloquently without indulging some of the more metrically off-putting devices to which Masur became increasingly prone in this work. A quarter of a century later the sense of freshness implicit in this reading had become occluded, fussed over and was ultimately to prove less convincing. Here tempo and dynamics decisions are more structured.

Certainly when judged against a more direct and fluid and fluent performer, such as Volkmar Andreae, Masur can appear somewhat discursive at certain moments. But Andreae’s (Music & Arts) is not the only way and Masur’s more malleable and destabilised approach is the product of a different perception.

For Masur-watchers who need to note the trajectory of his performance history with this symphony the Leipzig 1974 recording is on CD on Denon, RCA and Eurodisc but it saw extensive service on an Eterna LP. There’s a French National from 2005 and 2007 on Karna KA-240M and Dirigent DIR0185 (and Harvest HC 06126). The New York Phil recording is on Teldec CD 73243 (and variants). Less well known perhaps is/are the Schleswig Holstein Festival Orchestra performance(s) from 2003 on Orchestra CD DSM 37677150 and En Larmes 03-423 – I haven’t been able to ascertain if this is in fact the same performance.

There are however strong reasons interpretatively to prefer this 1967 reading and with highly sympathetic sound into the bargain, Masur admirers have now found another reason to acquaint themselves with this performance.

Jonathan Woolf