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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (ed. Haas)
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. Semperoper, Dresden, 10 June 2012
Video direction: Henning Kasten
Region Code: A,B,C
Picture format: 1080i 16:9
Sound: PCM Stereo; DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Sound
C MAJOR Blu-ray 716204 [89:00]

This live performance has already been reviewed in DVD format by Simon Thompson and its appearance on Blu-Ray is greatly to be welcomed.

This is my third encounter with Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden in Bruckner. I’ve already seen and heard them in a 2013 account of the Fifth Symphony (review) and also in a 2012 traversal of the Seventh (review). This performance of the Eighth was given some three months before Thielemann took up his post as principal conductor of the orchestra, a tenure that he inaugurated with the aforementioned performance of the Seventh. In fact, I learned from the booklet that in 2009 he made his first appearance with the Dresden orchestra conducting Bruckner’s Eighth when he stood in for an indisposed colleague. So impressed were the orchestra that an invitation to be their next principal conductor followed shortly afterwards.

If that 2009 performance was of a similar quality to this present one then I’m not surprised the Dresden musicians were impressed. This is a very fine performance indeed. In the opening pages the lustrous strings and then, shortly afterwards, the majestic sound of the brass choir both give notice that the orchestra is on top form and so it proves as the performance unfolds. The tone of the orchestra is rich and burnished with the strings a particular glory. As the first movement progresses it’s evident that Thielemann has a fine and clear-eyed sense of the music’s architecture. There’s great power in the climaxes and the musical lines are wonderfully sustained. This is a compelling performance with the orchestra demonstrating real commitment.

The scherzo is dynamic. When the trio is reached Thielemann takes it quite steadily and he moulds the music most expressively. Indeed, I can imagine that some people may think he lingers a bit too much but in the context of this live performance I was convinced, especially because the music is so beautifully played.

If anything the performance goes up to an even higher level during the great Adagio. Here the marvellous depth of orchestral tone is especially evident; there’s a wonderfully firm bass foundation to the sound of the string choir. Bruckner asked for three harps if possible though not all orchestras accommodate that request. They do in Dresden, and the important harp contributions really make their mark sumptuously in this performance. The Wagner tubas now enrich the sound of the brass section even further. The performance is simply superb, gripping the listener’s attention consistently. I admired greatly the expertly controlled build-up to each climax so that when these climaxes are attained they are open up majestically and without any histrionics. The long, glowing coda is simply marvellous. This is an outstanding performance and it’s small wonder that when it’s over the conductor gives a nod of appreciation to his players.

The majestic brass fanfares, thrillingly driven forward, get the massive finale off to the most imposing start possible. The performance that follows is simply tremendous as conductor and orchestra unveil the many splendours of Bruckner’s score, including the subdued, rapt pages. The triumphant ending usually brings immediate applause from audiences. It’s interesting to see that when this particular performance ends the Dresden audience is sufficiently disciplined – or impressed – that they allow quite some time even after Thielemann has put down his baton before commencing what soon becomes a standing ovation. One suspects the Dresden public realised that their orchestra’s new chief had just set out his stall - and in some style.

This is a magnificent Bruckner performance. Thielemann’s conception of Bruckner’s masterpiece is compelling and the Dresden orchestra plays the score superbly. The Blu-Ray sound is very good indeed and the sympathetic camera work does justice to the occasion.

John Quinn

Previous review (DVD): Simon Thompson



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