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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107 (1883 version, ed. Nowak)
Bruckner Orchester Linz/Kurt Eichhorn
rec. 1990, Brucknerhaus Linz, Austria CAMERATA CM-165 [67:10]
I have never encountered a recording in Kurt Eichhorn’s admittedly limited discography that I have not liked. He died at 85 in 1994 before he could complete his cycle of recordings of Bruckner symphonies on the Camerata label, so we have no numbers 2, 3 or 4 and those he did record are now hard and expensive to obtain; this is probably the most available of them. There is also a superlative live performance of the Fifth made the same year as this studio recording in the St. Florian’s basilica with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, but that is also currently nigh-on unobtainable.
This is, by and large, a fairly expansive, measured account of Bruckner’s most recorded symphony which gives due weight and majesty to the slow-built climaxes but injects real dynamism into the Scherzo and finale.
Everything is right and well-judged here, from the whispering tremolando opening on the violins, answered by the cellos’ plaintive, upward-surging melody through the blazing, triumphant trumpet chorale which concludes this, arguably the best balanced and most coherently structured of Bruckner’s symphonies. The build up to the first great climax six minutes in is sure-footed, but restrained enough to help you sense that Eichhorn is keeping his powder dry for the real high-point of the movement, which is obviously its conclusion. Like Karajan, he has an unerring sense of the architecture of the symphony, so avoids premature release.
The Adagio is dark, brooding and numinous, but Eichhorn also brings out the lyrical beauty of the second subject, subtly applying rubato on its appearance. When it’s done right, this a slow movement to set alongside the Adagio of the Eighth; Eichhorn opts for cymbals, triangle and timpani at the climax and it sounds just as it should – overwhelming.
The Scherzo is suitably manic and disturbing, while simultaneously exciting – again, delivered just as it should be. The finale is the most challenging of the movements but Eichhorn keeps it all together; the playing is lithe and responsive; the brass, in particular, rise to the occasion.
Indeed, the Linz orchestra is very fine in all departments, sustaining a rich, burnished tone, faithfully captured in one of the best produced Bruckner recordings I know; kudos to the Japanese engineers.
There is no shortage of alternatives; any of Karajan’s three, especially the transcendent, final, digital recording with the VPO, and those by Sanderling and Schaller remain prime recommendations, too. For historical, benchmark recordings of electric live performances, I endorse those by Knappertsbusch with the VPO in 1949 and Furtwängler with the BPO in 1951, but they cannot be a first choice for the general listener. I often think that, when it is done justice, my favourite Bruckner symphony is the one I am currently listening to, and this recording produced that response in me. This splendidly played and beautifully engineered recording from Eichhorn goes to the top of the list alongside Karajan.