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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1885, original version. ed. Robert Haas 1944) [63:30]
Berlin Staatskapelle/Kurt Masur
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 17 November 1967

Bruckner guru Robert Simpson opined that the seventh was one of the composer’s greatest and most original works. He spends the first page and a half of his analysis simply finding different ways of saying how wonderful the work is. I cannot but agree. This is Bruckner at his most lyrical, radiant and powerful. Kurt Masur and his great orchestra miss none of those characteristics. The Haas edition that he always used is free of all performing instructions not in Bruckner's own handwriting but in a sense there is little between Haas and Nowak on this occasion. The Symphony No. 7 is not one of the really contentious works from that point of view, only the presence or absence of some percussion in the Adagio marks out the two editions. Conductors who “get” Bruckner have no difficulty in allowing the music to breathe and sometimes to propel it forward even without score markings.

Kurt Masur, who died in 2015, recorded this Symphony with seven different orchestras over a period of more than 40 years. He seems to have stayed with the 1944 Haas edition of the score, so there is no cymbal crash to wait for in this live concert recording from 1967. Here the Berlin Staatskapelle turns in a blazingly intense performance that rightfully brings cheers from the attentive audience. The great Adagio is given rendered particularly movingly by a conductor who seems to have been one of the great Bruckner masters. He handles all the strange transitions and pauses with a natural ease that has not always been achieved by interpreters. This entire performance just sounds right.

As an impecunious student in 1967, I would have been unable to raise the price of a ticket to London or to the concert, but I do so regret missing this one. I am in debt to Geoffrey Terry for preserving such an impressive performance. On this occasion his recording seems to be rather over-bright, but judicious volume setting helps to moderate this, and it is certainly not grounds for dismissing this CD from consideration. It sounds historic but still clear and dynamic enough to enjoy. We have heard much of the Berlin Staatskapelle in recent years during their continuing tenure with Daniel Barenboim. They sounded as wonderful back in the 1960s as they did not so long ago, also at the Royal Festival Hall, also playing Bruckner. No studio recording exists of them with Masur in this work, so this live version is the more welcome.

Dave Billinge


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