Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.9 in d minor, WAB109 (1891, 1896, ed. Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs, 2000)
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Herbert Blomstedt
rec. live, 24 and 26 November, 2011. DSD.
QUERSTAND SACD VKJK12151 [59:21]
There’s no doubt that Herbert Blomstedt is a consummate Brucknerian. The catalogue already listed mid-price reissues on the dal Segno label of his Staatskapelle Dresden recordings of the Fourth and Seventh symphonies. These were originally made for Denon in the 1980s (DSPRCD045 and DSPRCD046, respectively). An earlier Querstand recording of Blomstedt in Leipzig, contains a recording of Bruckner’s Third Symphony (VKJK0507).
My colleagues’ reviews of those dal Segno reissues are all, to varying degrees, enthusiastic. The virtues of his new recording of the Ninth are similar: this is a straight performance in the best sense from someone who has fully absorbed the European Bruckner tradition. Blomstedt keeps the music moving, receives ample support from an orchestra equally saturated in the composer’s music, and is well recorded, especially as heard from the SACD stereo layer.
Some time ago I developed my own benchmark for Bruckner performances: that they should never make the listener feel that the movements seem as long as they actually are; in the case of the Ninth, both the opening movement, feierlich, misterioso and the closing adagio: langsam, feierlich are as long as most entire Haydn and Mozart symphonies (24:37 and 24:20 respectively in this performance). That’s not an inordinate length for the third movement. It’s a little slower than Bruno Walter with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (Sony, 23:16) but Eugen Jochum runs to 27:09 on the early stereo DG recording from which I got to know this symphony when it was reissued on Heliodor. Jochum takes 27:41 on his later DG version, now available only in a budget box set, and 27:39 on his EMI remake. Nor does the music seem inordinately long in Blomstedt’s hands.
Blomstedt cannot be accused, as Jochum often is, of making the music sound episodic, though that’s not something that I mind; my DG Privilege CDs of most of Jochum’s Bruckner still make regular visits to my CD player. What Blomstedt does with the third movement, however, is to make it sound like the last word that we thought it was until recently. If you just want the three authentic movements, you should be well satisfied with his recording.
Since the recent Simon Rattle recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, however, we’ve been able to hear the symphony, not as an Ozymandias-like truncation but in something like the four-movement form that Bruckner aspired to give it. That’s in a performance by a world-class conductor and orchestra which, for me and most other reviewers, lends a new perspective to the music. No longer is the ‘finale’ the end but a movement towards a final resolution and that view colours Rattle’s approach. Though he actually takes a few seconds longer than Blomstedt for this movement, he seems to move the music forward more effectively - less langsam, more feierlich, with the music really blossoming at the climaxes. I now find it difficult to accept any performance that fails to do so (EMI 9529692 - review: Recording of the Month - review - and June 2012 Download Roundup: Download of the Month).
So the three-movement version no longer satisfies me any more than hearing just the completed fragment of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony. I say that now that we have several very satisfying accounts of what the whole work might have sounded like - not least again from Simon Rattle in Berlin and earlier in Birmingham.
Throughout his creative life Bruckner’s devotion was equally to God and that most ungodly person Richard Wagner. His Ninth Symphony was dedicated to the former, dem lieben Gott geweiht. I’ve no idea what, if any, religious feelings Simon Rattle was feeling as he conducted this symphony. That said, the third movement emerges in his hands as a kind of journey through Dante’s Purgatorio, the music becoming ever more life-enhancing, while the completed finale breathes the rarefied atmosphere of Dante’s Paradiso. Few readers of Dante ever get that far - we mostly enjoy the Inferno and get no further - but Bruckner was a visionary and his completed finale would surely have encompassed a vision as intense as Dante’s. As it is, from Rattle and BPO the editors who have completed the movement get us as close as possible to that experience.
The notes in the Querstand booklet criticise Ferdinand Löwe’s Wagnerisation of this symphony for the first performance in 1903. They accept that he did so with good intentions, but fail to give details of the edition used for this performance. We are told that it was prepared by Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs - one of the collaborators on the completed fourth movement - and was published in 2000. Nor are the date and venue of the recording listed in the German, English or French notes; I’ve deduced the dates given above, I hope correctly, from the Japanese at the end of the booklet. Perhaps that’s just an idiosyncrasy of my review copy. That the recording was made live and, I presume, in the Gewandhaus, is apparent from the applause at the end. Those who dislike the retention of the applause, which I don’t, will be pleased to hear that it’s soon faded down. (see note below)
In summary, then, the quality of this new recording of the Ninth is good enough to encourage me to explore some of Blomstedt’s other Bruckner recordings. If you’re happy with the work as a glorious fragment, you’ll probably be more than satisfied with this Querstand release. If, however, you’ve once heard Simon Rattle and the BPO in their glowing recent recording of the completed work, you may never wish to listen to the three-movement version again. Even if you’re not sold on the completion, Rattle’s performance of the first three movements is excellent.
Querstand have sent the following information:
Just an info regarding the recording data: This info indeed was missing in the first pressing and is now included in all new pressings since the second one. The recording took place during the concerts on Nov 24, 25, and 26, 2011 in Leipzig Gewandhaus.
For those content with the 3-movement version but we’re now spoiled by Simon Rattle’s 4-movement recording.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner 9
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