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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1896 version, with reconstructed Finale by Nors S. Josephson, 1992)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/John Gibbons
rec. Symphonic Hall, Musikhuset, Aarhus, Denmark, 22-25 April 2014

Four things. I do not intend to give a biography of Anton Bruckner, save to say that this Austrian composer's reputation is fairly and squarely based on his eleven symphonies, (0-9 and Symphony in F minor), his masses and a number of shorter religious choral works. His catalogue also contains some chamber works and piano pieces. Secondly, he is not a composer to whom I have ever warmed: his music is too massive (and long-winded) for my taste. Yet, I recognise that his symphonies are master-works and deserve their popularity with music-lovers. Thirdly, there are some 133 currently available recordings of Symphony No. 9. These are in a variety of revisions with and without the final 'unfinished' movement. Lastly, this 'unfinished' movement has been completed by a number of musicologists: it is beyond my ken to state which is preferable, authentic and ultimately most successful -or if it is even necessary.

Add to all this, the fact that there are two basic versions of the Symphony No.9 which are available to orchestras. Bruckner only managed to complete the first three movements before his death in 1896. One early edition of the work was by his pupil and disciple Ferdinand Loewe. This heavily edited and considerably revised version was first heard in Vienna on 11 February 1903. Bruckner's own version of the symphony was not heard until 2 April 1932 at a concert in Munich (Alfred Orel Edition). This was at a private event organised by the Bruckner Society. Subsequent to this performance, Loewe's version declined in popularity. It was felt that Loewe had 'drastically altered and perverted the music'. Further editions of the Symphony were published in 1952 and 2000 which were simply minor corrections to the Orel edition.

For a full discussion of the composition and completion of Bruckner's Symphony No.9, see Art van der Wal's major study on MusicWeb International. The three movements were composed between 1891 and 1894.

Analysis of the work is well-nigh impossible in a short space. The massive opening movement utilises some four themes with a series of huge climaxes. The scherzo is lighter in texture with dance-like music and a relatively relaxed trio section. This is the shortest movement in the symphony lasting a mere 10 minutes. The adagio is another huge construction that explores two principal themes with complex development, a massive climax and a quiet close. This movement is largely contemplative and melancholy.

At the composer's death various full and short score sketches were left for the finale. There have been a number of attempts at completing the movement including those of Carragan (1979-84), Samale and Mazzuca (1979-85) for two pianos, and Samale, Phillips, Mazzuca, and Cohrs (1986-88). Nors S. Josephson's was realised over a long period: 1979-92. Josephson has written that the 'present edition of the finale ... is the result of a ten year long project.' He has made use of many of Bruckner's musical sketches located in a number of Viennese libraries. He claims that the composer had mapped out, in varying detail, the entire finale, save for the coda, and that the 'critical task was to work out the order of the pages with a coherent structure and then to compose a coda following the example of previous symphonies.'

Nors S. Josephson was born in California in 1942. He received his Ph.D in Historical Musicology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1970. He has since followed an academic career as well as being a prolific composer. His main interests are Renaissance church music, Slavic composers of the 19th and 20th centuries including Smetana, Fibich, Dvorak and Janacek, He has also made extensive studies of Sibelius' unfinished 8th Symphony and the ancient culture of Easter Island. His most recent composition is a two hour long St. Matthew Passion for six soloists and Mozart Choir. It will be premiered in Speyer, Germany during Good Friday, 2015.

The liner-notes are impressive, even if the font size a wee bit small. After a brief note by Nors S. Josephson, there is a detailed examination of the entire symphony by Dominic Nudd. The British composer David Matthews contributes a study of 'finale'. Finally the conductor John Gibbons presents an important essay on the recording of this CD. There are detailed biographies about the conductor and Nors S. Josephson. Historical notes and a complete discography of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra are included.

The sound of this imposing symphony is excellently recorded with good balance between the massive climaxes and the more intimate moments. The playing sounds impressive and controlled.

Interestingly, David Matthews, in the liner-notes suggests that the 'general view that the three movement version of the symphony is the correct one.' However, he concludes that the sketches left by Bruckner have such 'artistic value that it demands to be heard.'

As I noted above, I am not competent to judge between the various versions and completions of this symphony. All I can say is that I was impressed and moved by this recording. For me the finale is totally consistent with what has preceded it. I can say that although I will probably never become a Bruckner enthusiast, I enjoyed this new recording from Danacord and feel that Bruckner enthusiasts will require this version in their collections.

John France


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