Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E flat major Romantic (1878/1880 version) [65:43]
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1883) [64:52]
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (Finale completed by William Carragan in 2010 revised version) (1896) [83:41]
Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
rec. live, Ebrach Abbey, Bavaria, Germany, 29 July 2007 (No.4), 29 July 2008 (No.7), 1 August 2010 (No.9)
HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH11028 [4 CDs: 65:43 + 64:52 + 36:54 + 46:47]

These performances were given at the Ebrach Summer Music Festival as part of the Bruckner Festival in 2007, 2008 and 2010. In co-operation with Bavarian Radio the recordings were made in the glorious setting of the Ebrach Abbey church in Bavaria which on this evidence has a splendid acoustic.

The Philharmonie Festiva may be a new name to many readers. This is a highly accomplished orchestra comprising mainly members of the Munich Bach Soloists augmented by musicians from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic. Taking the baton is Bamberg-born conductor Gerd Schaller who is the founder and musical director of the Ebrach Summer Music Festival.

The performance of the Ninth Symphony contains the first recording of the revised 2010 version of the finale completed by William Carragan. Carragan is a contributing editor of the Anton Bruckner Collected Edition and has prepared a new edition of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2. From 1979 to 1983 he worked on a finale for the Bruckner Ninth. That first completion can be heard from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yoav Talmi on Chandos CHAN 8468/9 but revisions also followed in 2003 and 2006.

Composed in 1874, the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, known as the Romantic, has been given wholesale revisions at various times. The 1878/1880 version recorded on this disc has been described by composer and musicologist Robert Simpson as, “clean and lean”. The memorable opening under Gerd Schaller is marvellously done; immediately convincing. Schaller’s pacing is impressive navigating the flow and broad sweep of the writing with broad assurance. The horns have a significant part throughout and the Philharmonie Festiva brass is in impressive form displaying a burnished tone.

Composed in 1881-83, the Symphony No. 7 in E major is the most popular of Bruckner’s symphonies and it brought the composer the greatest success he had known. It was Arthur Nikisch who conducted the premičre at Leipzig in 1884. Schaller attains great nobility in a performance that leaves a powerful effect. The orchestral climaxes are remarkable with Schaller astutely building the tension from calm hush to furious climax.

Bruckner was working on his Symphony No. 9 in D minor at the time of his death in 1896. The first three movements were completed with sketches left for a fourth. Bruckner said, “I have served my purpose of earth; I have done what I could, and there is only one thing I would still like to be granted: the strength to finish my Ninth Symphony.” At Bruckner’s own suggestion the unfinished symphony was often performed with the Te deum serving as the final movement. For this Ebrach Abbey performance Schaller uses the revised 2010 version of the final movement as completed by William Carragan. In this reading I was struck how confidently Schaller demonstrates a real understanding of the score’s structure. There’s a splendid clarity about his reading. In addition I love the way Schaller emphasises the spiritual qualities especially in the gloriously played second movement Adagio.

This is a really impressive release. The engineers have done a remarkable job providing a clear, well-balanced sound. There are decent notes in the booklet. Carragan’s completion of the Ninth Symphony is an added attraction.

Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Symphony 4 ~~ Symphony 7 ~~ Symphony 9

A really impressive release.