Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major* (1883) [71:14]
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1894) [62:18]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Kurt Sanderling*; Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. live 20 Sept 1996; 16 Dec 1998*, Liederhalle, Stuttgart
HÄNSSLER CLASSICS CD 94.604 [71:14 + 62:18]
This issue combines, in a bargain package, two major performances previously issued separately. As such it represents a very attractive purchase for any committed Bruckner fan. They are not necessarily the first recommendations you would encounter in surveys but could easily be so, particularly with regard to the Seventh. Apart from the muting of the reverberation of the last note on the horn right at the end of the Ninth before the applause comes in - presumably some eejit yelled out “Bravo” or something - there are no niggling sound or production problems despite these being live. In fact the sonic quality is tremendous, as is the quality of execution. There is barely a sound from the audience and the Liederhalle acoustic proves to be ideal; full marks to the engineers. The Stuttgart Radio Orchestra is immensely impressive but not flawless: the horn fanfare seven minutes into the Allegro moderato of the Seventh is tame. There are some slippages in ensemble and some passing moments of rhythmic uncertainty, particularly in the Scherzo. Similarly, in the manic Scherzo of the Ninth, the orchestra cannot emulate the precision and tonal weight of the VPO. The hammer blows are not unanimous, the woodwind intonation is slightly awry and the brass is sometimes wayward. For the most part, however, they are astoundingly good, above all in the shimmer of their strings, even if the latter cannot sustain the amplitude of the VPO’s brass in the “Dresden Amen” in the Adagio.
I believe the Sanderling Seventh to be the more striking of the two symphonies here, only because Giulini surpasses even this Ninth in his legendary live account with the VPO from June 1988. Were it not for the existence of that recording, this would be the Giulini Ninth to have, but it does not quite achieve the singing ecstasy of the Vienna performance. However, there is much to be savoured here. Those who, to borrow an apt phrase from a fellow reviewer, “get bored sitting in cathedrals”, will prefer this faster version. Giulini has curbed his predilection for etiolation and chopped two minutes off the first movement and four off the third compared with his Vienna account. This results in a more standard total running time, as most competitive recordings come in between 58 and 62 minutes. I for one still miss the rapt majesty he generates in Vienna but still endorse this Stuttgart performance as a great achievement. Another attraction for fans is that this was the last of his three Ninths and his valedictory Bruckner performance before retirement.
There is also the question of the desirability of buying a Ninth complete with the newly reconstructed finale, especially as several good ones are now available and conductors such as Rattle are recording and performing it. I do not propose to embark on a discussion of that here but will confine myself to discussing only the three movement version of this symphony that Giulini performed. For more on the reconstruction, see my review of the recent three-symphony Profil issue with Schaller conducting at the Ebrach Festival.
The Sanderling Seventh may be recommended without hesitation, even alongside established classics by Karajan, especially as the latter’s recordings still await a proper re-mastering and the sound here is so satisfying.
Sanderling brings a sense of occasion to Bruckner. His is a grand, stately, direct, no-frills interpretation; the only quirk being an exceptionally slow Adagio of over 25 minutes. This he pulls off by exhorting his violins to play the downward figures with highly expressive portamento and a sense of the sweep and arc of their phrase. You know that you are in the hands of a master by the way he engineers the crescendo five minutes into the first movement Allegro; his gradation of dynamics is telling. In the Scherzo, you feel that Karajan is almost too refined in comparison with how Sanderling galvanises the triple-time theme, despite the occasional rhythmic slip from the Stuttgart orchestra. He takes a broad, Romantic approach to the lyrical sections more akin to Karajan’s warm treatment whereas Schaller, having managed such concentrated urgency in the fast sections, slightly falters here and is erratic in pulse. In the Finale, Sanderling captures a kind of Brahmsian combination of massive dignity and thrilling propulsion; the music is both broad and driven, underpinned by some superb horn-playing. The balance between the refulgent brass and the shimmering strings is perfectly judged. So, too, is the skilfully managed, successive alternation between the sprightly opening subject and the slow, weighty second theme. This is Bruckner playing of the highest order, wholly in the spirit of the composer.
Hänssler do not provide recording dates beyond the year but I believe those I give above to be correct.
Bruckner playing of the highest order, wholly in the spirit of the composer.
Masterwork Index: Symphony 7 ~~ Symphony 9