Symphony No. 7 in E major (1881-1883) (1885, ed. Nowak 1954) [67:24]
Wiener Symphoniker/Yakov Kreizberg
rec. live, June 2004, Konzerthaus, Vienna
Reviewed as a stereo DSD64 download from
Pdf booklet included
PENTATONE PTC5186051 SACD
Having recently – and belatedly – reviewed Yakov Kreizberg’s Strauss
waltzes with the Wiener Symphoniker I couldn’t wait to hear his Bruckner
Seventh. Recorded live with the same band – he was their principal guest
conductor from 2003 to 2009 – this album is the work of recording and
balance engineers Roger de Schot and Erdo Groot respectively; they made a
splendid team in the Strauss, so I had high hopes for the Bruckner. Yes,
the music comes first, but in this piece especially a top-notch recording
helps to reveal the multi-layered splendour of Bruckner’s writing.
My Damascene conversion took place 40 years ago, when I listened to
borrowed LPs of Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker in
Bruckner’s Eighth (Deutsche Grammophon). By turns fiery and eloquent that
must be one of the finest performances he ever committed to disc; praise
indeed from someone who never really warmed to the Karajan style. After
that came the classic Vienna/Karl Böhm Fourth (Decca), Daniel Barenboim’s
intermittently successful Chicago cycle (DG) and Günter Wand’s impassioned
BP recordings (Sony-RCA). Sergiu Celibidache’s legendary Munich set
(Warner) was a fairly recent discovery, as was Simone Young’s direct but
always illuminating Hamburg series for Oehms.
When it comes to the Seventh, though, my current go-to version is
Celibidache’s, recorded live with the BP in 1992; the Blu-ray was one of my
Recordings of the Year in 2012 (review). Celi clocks in at an astonishing 90 minutes – most performances last
around 70 – but the combination of the BP at their best and the conductor
at his most audacious makes for an overwhelming experience. This is also a
prime example of how a good, three-dimensional recording can aid one’s
perception of the music, notably in those mighty, ‘terraced’ tuttis.
Rather like Otto Klemperer’s equally expansive account of
– 100 minutes as opposed to the usual 80 – Celi’s Bruckner Seventh won’t
please everyone, but they both deserve to be heard. I’ve also
Donald Runnicles’ 2012 recording with the BBC Scottish Symphony, and while
there’s much to admire the playing isn’t as polished as I’d like; also,
there’s not enough of the weight and amplitude that I look for in these
symphonies. No such qualms about Young, whose taut, persuasively shaped
Seventh is one of the finest I‘ve heard in years. The SACD may have added
presence, but the 16-bit download – available from
– is still pretty impressive.
Celi is a one-off, a maverick, so Young is the obvious comparative here.
She and Kreizberg both use the same edition of the score – 1885, ed. Nowak
1954 – and both are recorded live in DSD. The Seventh is one of Bruckner’s
least contentious symphonies, so there isn’t a confusing array of
performing versions to choose from. It’s also one of the composer’s most
popular, and revisiting the piece for this review reminds me why; it’s
structurally well-balanced, the scoring is wonderfully transparent and the
whole edifice seems admirably secure.
Coming back to Kreizberg, his Strauss waltzes are characterised by supple
rhythms, meticulous attention to detail – no hint of micro-management,
though – and a pleasing sense of proportion; these are all desirable
qualities when it comes to Bruckner. As for those long spans and
magnificent, crowning bosses they demand the skills and precise
calculations of a master builder. To a greater or lesser degree the
conductors I’ve mentioned have the necessary credentials; it’s a very
select group – among them the revered veterans Bernard Haitink and Eugen
Jochum – to which only the best can be admitted. I’ve yet to hear Marek
Janowski’s Bruckner, but then I generally find him too driven – and that’s
not what I want in this music.
Kreizberg’s Allegro moderato is both spacious and refined;
the recording is naturally balanced, with sweet strings and a full,
sonorous bass. But it’s the detail that takes one’s breath away, the
thousand little touches that give the score its inner glow. Add to that a
winning way with Bruckner’s dancing interludes and you have a reading of
rare character and insight. And while Kreizberg is not as direct as Young
he never dawdles; indeed, he manages to pause and reflect without
sacrificing pulse or progress. As for the orchestral blend, it’s simply
marvellous, the WS sounding quite Wagnerian at times.
What Kreizberg brings to this music is an affectionate and disarming manner
that pleases the ear and warms the heart. He also crafts a
strong, varied and coherent narrative, its 'gear changes' seamlessly done. As for those
rising horn figures, they unseam’d me in an instant. It’s one of many
epiphanies in this great score, and both conductors judge it to perfection.
Ditto the climax at the end of this radiant opener, although Kreizberg
makes it peal more than most. A minor revelation, I know, but even at this
stage it's clear we’re in the presence of a true Brucknerian.
The Adagio, unerringly paced and projected, is no less beguiling.
Indeed, the prevailing air of hushed concentration propels one straight
into the stalls, eyes fixed – in rapt attention – on the lighted stage.
Once again I was struck by the way that Kreizberg segues one setting with
the next. There’s a thrilling spaciousness to the performance too, the
conductor building beautifully proportioned musical structures throughout.
Then there’s the contrast between that impassioned peroration – so calmly
prepared for – and the deeply affecting horns and quiet pizzicati at
Kreizberg’s Scherzo is both playful and propulsive, and the timps
sound much more adamant here than they do in the Strauss. Moreover, there’s
a sense of music being caught on the wing, something that one associates
with the live experience rather than a recording. Everyone is commanded to
perform at their peak without any sign of being coerced or cajoled to do
so; and that, too, is the mark of a great maestro. The WS certainly play
their hearts out for Kreizberg; the liquid woodwinds in the Finale
are a treat, the lower strings alert and warmly rounded. But it’s the
vaunting brass – bold, burnished and perfectly scaled – who deserve special
praise at the end. After that I’d like to think the applause was tumultuous.
I realise it’s foolish to seek a ‘perfect performance’, but having first
reeled at this one and then reflected on it I must declare it the most
satisfying – the most complete – Bruckner Seventh I’ve ever heard.
Yes, Kreizberg’s recording has now supplanted Celi’s, but I’d still
want both; and no, I’ve not forgotten Young, whose powerful reading has
much in common with Kreizberg’s. How cruel that the latter was taken from
us at 51; and how I would have loved to hear his Bruckner 6, 8 and 9, not
to mention his Mahler. As for the Symphoniker, they may be Vienna’s B team
but their exalted playing here surely puts them on a par with the
Bruckner Sevenths don’t come much better than this; one for the desert