Whoever scouts around for old recordings for the "Brilliant"
label to re-master and re-issue deserves a gold star and a bonus for
this one. These recordings by Rögner have previously been issued
separately on Berlin Classics but are here licensed from the German
"Edel" label. They are presented by "Brilliant"
in an attractive, super-bargain box set containing cardboard slipcases
and a booklet providing good notes. A misprint on the back of the
slipcase and box states that the Eight is the "1877/90 Haas"
edition, when it is 1887/90.
It's not a true cycle as such, given that the recordings here
are a compilation. Symphonies 4 to 9 are with the Berlin Radio Symphony
Orchestra conducted by natural Bruckner conductor Heinz Rögner.
These were recorded in superb, warm analogue sound between 1980 and
1985. The earliest three symphonies are something of a rag-bag. The
First, conducted by Vàclav Neumann and Third, with Kurt Sanderling,
are both studio recordings from the early 1960s with the Gewandhausorchester
Leipzig. The Second is decidedly incongruous, being a good, live mono
recording from 1950 conducted by Franz Konwitschny but again with
There is a kind of unity to the set insofar as all are played in what
must be acknowledged to be the old, post-war East German tradition.
However, the first three, older recordings are decidedly grand and
leisurely; with overall timings ranging, by comparison with other
established classic recordings, from the average to the slow. By contrast,
Rögner's speeds and manner are swift and propulsive, mostly
breathlessly and thrillingly fast with a real sense of drive and purpose.
The Fifth, for example, clocks in at 68 minutes instead of the usual
80 and is none the worse for it. Similarly, the Seventh and Eighth,
each have timings some ten minutes (and more) swifter than many rival
versions but never sound rushed, just compelling.
The orchestral playing is predictably marvellous - just listen to
the string quality in the Adagios - but it's the conducting
which astonishes. You might well say, "Rögner - who?"
as did I. He was a Leipzig-born conductor who spent most of his career
there and in East Berlin and thus had little exposure in the West.
In fact he is clearly a master of the Brucknerian idiom, with an extraordinarily
confident, over-arching sense of the architecture of his symphonies,
always eschewing the wallow in favour of forward momentum and thereby
neatly side-stepping the facile accusations of Bruckner's detractors.
Yet the first three symphonies are well worth hearing, too. The First
is coherent and convincing, the Leipzig fiddles maintaining perfect
intonation and making the most of that lovely falling string figure
reminiscent of Verdi's "Otello". The Second, despite
the mono sound with thin upper frequencies and too much coughing,
is a performance of stature typical of good old "con whisky"
on a sober day. It’s Romantic and rhapsodic with plenty of rubato
and broad, subtly-shaded phrasing of Wagnerian intensity and scale.
I greatly enjoy Sanderling's Seventh on the Hänssler label.
This Third is a recording to stand by it, being grand and stately.
However, it is Rögner's recordings of the last six symphonies
which make this set an absolutely compulsory purchase for all true
Brucknerians. It is difficult to pin down what it is that distinguishes
his Bruckner but I can only point to the sense of unity and inevitability
which informs his interpretations. Each symphony emerges as an entirely
integrated artistic entity. These are conceptions that emulate the
sweep and concentration of Karajan yet are very different in affect.
The Fourth is fast and furious, removing all possibility of bombast
or the ponderous, yet the second movement is deeply reflective and
restrained. The Fifth is likewise first positively manic then imbued
with a compensatory balance by the gentle tranquillity of the horn
and pizzicato passages before the mad dash to the finish. This potentially
problematic symphony seems all of a piece in Rögner's
hands. The Sixth is tense and menacing and perhaps lacking in the
gravitas conferred on it by other versions like that by Klemperer.
It is closer to Sawallisch's conception. The Seventh is exceptionally
fluent, flexible, always redolent of mystery and the narrative is
always gripping. The brass is superb, simply heavenly at the climax
of the first movement and the Wagner tubas in the opening of the Adagio
are beautifully forward. The opening of the Eighth is nervy, almost
edgy, yet with the sense of occasion that Karajan brought to a favourite
symphony and certainly my candidate for the greatest ever written.
The Scherzo is breathtakingly swift yet the individual instrumental
lines remain wonderfully differentiated. The Ninth is sublime, exalted,
gorgeously played and recorded in splendid sound.
This is the perfect set for introducing the doubting novice to Bruckner's
world; nor will the seasoned collector want to be without it. What
a bargain - what a revelation.
Previous review: Nick
Masterwork Index: Bruckner
of Bruckner symphonies by Patrick Waller and John Quinn
Track & performance details
Symphony No.1 in C minor (Linz version)
(1866 rev. 1877) [51:21]
Symphony No.2 in C minor ed. Haas (1872 rev. 1877) [64:40]
Symphony No.3 in D minor ed. Raettig (1873 rev. 1890) [64:00]
Symphony No.4 in E flat Romantic ed. Nowak (1878 rev. 1886)
Symphony No.5 in B flat ed. Nowak (1878) [68:26]
Symphony No.6 in A ed. Nowak (1881) [52:17]
Symphony No.7 in E ed. Haas (1885) [59:15]
Symphony No.8 in C minor ed. Haas (1887/90 – mixed version)
Symphony No.9 in D minor ed. Nowak (1887) [54:15]
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Václav Neumann (1); Berlin Radio
Symphony Orchestra/Franz Konwitschny (2); Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt
Sanderling (3); Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Heinz Rögner
rec. Saal 1, SRK Berlin Germany, 14 January 1951 (2); Heilandskirche
Leipzig, Germany, June 1963 (3); 13-14 December 1965 (1), Saal 1,
SRK Berlin, Germany, 19 June 1980 (6), 9-12 February 1983 (9), July
1983/January 1984 (4), 5 August 1983 (7), September 1983/January 1984
(5), May 1985 (8)