Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1881-1883) [66:32]
Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young
rec. live, Laeiszhalle, Hamburg, Germany, 29-30 August 2014
SACD/CD Hybrid Stereo and Surround 5.0 - Surround reviewed

The Bruckner Society website, but not the liner-notes, lists Simone Young's Bruckner 7 as being the 1885 original version in the 1954 Nowak Edition. Since the Seventh is viewed as one of the few uncontentious symphonies when it comes to editions, this makes little difference to the notes actually played. However it does go some way to assist in a critical assessment. Nowak, according to Robert Simpson, restored Bruckner's own performing instructions, removed by Robert Haas for his 1944 edition of the score on the grounds that they were not all unequivocally in Bruckner's handwriting. Citing a letter from Bruckner to Nikisch in which he says "in the score there are many things of importance and frequent changes of tempo not noted", Nowak includes these because it seems to be what the composer wanted.

One of the most striking characteristics of the present performance is the consistency of flow throughout. Nowhere, except possibly in the coda, which might have gained from a very slight ritardando, does Young disturb the onward progress. This is one of the most 'straight' performances I have heard and there is no harm done to Bruckner by playing him this way. It could very easily result in a performance without character but here Young shows herself the master of subtlety because her interpretation, from a score with Bruckner's instructions intact, is always absorbing yet never in any way disturbing. She never rushes climaxes. She never allows any section of the orchestra to overwhelm the textures, in which she is ably supported by an orchestra who seem to have Bruckner as much in their blood as do the Berlin, Vienna and Amsterdam bands. The scherzo is very steady, allowing the woodwind details space to be heard. Only the coda left me wondering. I would note that both Haitink (CSO) and Wand (EMI, BPO, 1999) take about half a minute longer over the finale, however all other recordings in my collection show a remarkable unanimity with Young, to within 5 seconds.

The recording is a proper surround production with rear channels that add depth and hall resonance. Obviously the recording venue, the Laeiszhalle, a hundred-year-old shoebox hall built in the grand manner, helps here. The notes are thorough and raise interesting matters about the symphony, especially the remarkably short finale.

By my count this leaves just the 5th and 9th before Simone Young's cycle is complete. I say 'complete' but should add the rider that she has tended to record the less-performed first versions of the symphonies, which in some cases, notably numbers 3 and 8, offers the opportunity for significant further instalments.

Dave Billinge

Another review ...

Simone Young’s Bruckner cycle is nearing the home straight; only the Fifth and Ninth symphonies remain to be issued. If they prove to be as satisfying as this account of the Seventh then the cycle will have ended very strongly.

The first movement begins auspiciously with the opening pages spaciously unfolded, the playing burnished in tone. As the movement progresses it is clear that the opening was a qualitative harbinger of what was to follow; in all departments the orchestral tone remains focussed yet mellow while Ms Young continues to shape the music very convincingly – there’s a natural flow which I like very much and which one also finds in the interpretations of such fine Brucknerians as Haitink, Skrowaczewski and Wand. As I listened I reflected that, having heard several of Simone Young’s Bruckner recordings, I’ve been attracted pretty consistently by her straightforward, thoroughly musical approach. The use of the word “straightforward” does not imply that the poetry and majesty of the music is not brought out - such is not the case – but this conductor seems to me to have a clear grasp of where the music is going and she is sensible and direct in the way that she lets Bruckner’s music unfold. In this movement her selection of tempi – and her transitions between tempi – seem pretty unerring to me. The orchestra, with whom she has a longstanding relationship, plays extremely well for her.

Quite rightly, Young takes an expansive view of the noble elegy that is the Adagio. Here I admired very much the excellence of the string choir and the splendidly sonorous Hamburg brass, now reinforced by the quartet of Wagner tubas. Among passages that caught my ear was the passage of string polyphony (just before 7:20), which is clearly voiced and understandingly phrased. As in the preceding movement Ms Young unfolds the music patiently and with an excellent sense of line. The various climaxes are full and majestic yet never sound forced. The conductor again displays a keen sense of the musical architecture, not least in the long, inexorable build-up to the movement’s main climax which, when it arrives (17:44), has all the grandeur you could wish for – and it’s capped by the cymbals and triangle. The deeply-felt coda, Bruckner’s elegy for Wagner, is very fine with the horns and Wagner tubas imparting a golden glow to the music.

There’s plenty of energy in the scherzo, where the rhythms have life in them. The trio is, as it should be, nicely relaxed and warm. The useful notes by Michael Lewin comment on the relative brevity of the finale. I must say that I’ve never found this a problem, though it is slightly odd that Bruckner composed a finale that lasts just under thirteen minutes in this performance after two opening movements that both play for over twenty minutes. Lewin cites an academic paper in which it is argued that Bruckner probably planned a much lengthier finale but eventually restrained himself in the face of persistent criticisms of the length of his themes and symphonic movements. That’s a persuasive theory though in the end it seems to me that in this movement Bruckner says what he wanted to say and then stops. That’s a contrast with the Fifth Symphony where the finale does seem to be very extensive. Whether Bruckner exercised self-censorship in the finale of the Seventh or not the result is one of his happiest – and least discursive – symphonic movements and Simone Young’s performance is spirited and convincing, providing the ideal conclusion to a very satisfying rendition of the Seventh Symphony.

I enjoyed this performance very much. I also liked the sound on this SACD which has presence and definition. There’s a good front-to-back perspective and all sections of the orchestra have been well served by the engineers. In particular the brass, so important in Bruckner’s sound-world, register very satisfyingly yet never excessively.

This is a fine addition to Simone Young’s Bruckner cycle. Collectors who have been following it need not hesitate to acquire it while anyone who has not yet experienced this conductor in Bruckner might find this recording an excellent starting point.

John Quinn

The Simone Young Bruckner cycle on MusicWeb International
Symphony in F minor ‘Studiensinfonie’ (1863)
Symphony No 0 (Original version 1869)
Symphony No 1 (Original version 1865/66)
Symphony No 2 (Original version 1872)
Symphony No 3 (Original version 1873)
Symphony No 4 (Original version 1874)
Symphony No 6 (Original Version 1881)
Symphony No 8 (Original version 1887)

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