One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here
Google seem to have closed down local search engines. You can use this FreeFind engine but it is not so comprehensive
You can go to Google itself and enter the search term followed by the search term.


International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Senior Editor: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
Surprise Best Seller and now

A Garland for John McCabe


DIETHELM Symphonies

The best Rite of Spring in Years

BACH Magnificat

Brian Symphs 8, 21, 26

Just enjoy it!

La Mer Ticciati




simply marvellous

Outstanding music

Elite treatment

some joyous Gershwin

Bartok String Quartets
uniquely sensitive

Cantatas for Soprano


REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1887-96) [62:08]
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
rec. Netherlands Radio Studio, Hilversum, 2008
EXTON OVCL-00276 [62:08]

An otherwise glorious recording — deep, spacious, and clean, almost tangible in its interplay of timbres and textures — has been sabotaged by peaky, aggressive high trumpet notes and harsh timpani attacks in the loudest tuttis. Those timpani, when they get rolling, also render the textures opaque, sometimes obscuring even the heavy brass. Those edgy, unmusical sounds simply spoil Bruckner's resplendent climaxes. I'd suggest that unfolding the SACD's surround layer would fix this, but I wouldn't count on it: my one SACD experience, long ago, sounded similarly edgy. This wasn't a problem in the early days of stereo; I fail to see why, with all our supposedly more sophisticated technologies, it should have become one.

It's a shame, as Jaap van Zweden provides one of the better Bruckner Ninths I've heard. It is, above all, a flowing performance — a rare thing in Bruckner, particularly in the Ninth, which, unlike the Seventh, isn't really based in its "tunes". The first movement's second theme, for example, goes with real elegance and lift. The first violins maintain a lightness and singing quality over the rests at 13:36, and inflect gracefully even amid increasingly busy surroundings, as in the passage in the finale after 14:20. The music always moves with a sure sense of purpose: in the first movement, note how the gentle woodwind pulsings at 6:29 propel the music disquietingly. The Trio of the Scherzo begins at a bracing, even rollicking pace, relaxing unobtrusively into the more liquid contrasting section.

Although van Zweden plays up the music's melodic, "horizontal" element, he doesn't shortchange its "vertical" element — the weight and thrust of the harmonic progressions. The ferocious outbursts in the outer movements are firmly anchored in the bass; the Scherzo's fearsome, crunching tuttis are as rugged as you could want. The conductor is also sensitive to the score's varying textures: the more lightly scored passages, particularly those involving woodwind chorales, sound airy and "open".
This balancing of flow and weight produces a performance that's powerful and delicate by turns. In the finale, the second theme is an outpouring of clear, open-throated warmth, while the attack at 11:33 is gentle yet forthright. In the more ominous pages — the first movement's third subject, at 7:51, and the quietly marziale passage in the recapitulation at 15:23 — crisp, alert execution over a solid bass foundation heightens the unease. The half-cadences between sections pause with real anticipation. Finally, the prevailing flowing manner throws the most profound episodes into stronger relief: the long valedictory beginning at 16:55 of the finale, in particular, builds in a convincing arc.

The Netherlands Radio Orchestra mostly plays splendidly, attacking the tuttis forthrightly, with compact, full-bodied sonorities; the unison horns are particularly trenchant. The quieter pages, meanwhile, are clean and clear. The violin tone is less weighty than in some orchestras, but it's impassioned and characterful: note, for example, the yearning affirmation with which they launch 15:30 in the finale. There are passing flaws in the outer movements. In the first, the horn at 5:40 seems not to realize it's duetting with the first violins; the oboe pushes its phrases ahead nervously at 9:06, though it's been plausibly buried. In the finale, when van Zweden slows down, unasked, at 7:08, things get sticky; the slow build beginning at 11:46 is careful and a bit tedious. Here and there, a sectional ritard betrays insecurity.

Despite my strictures, this is a fine performance. You might have more tolerance for the harsh moments — and, to be fair, they are just moments — than I; but, for me, they're a deal-breaker. So I'm sticking with Mehta (Decca), Barenboim/Chicago (DG), and Giulini (either the bronzen EMI, from Chicago, or the luminous DG, from Vienna).

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.



Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on

Donate and get a free CD


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Special offer 50% off

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Senior Editor
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger