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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E Major, WAB 107 (1885 Version with some Modifications by Bruckner. Ed. Albert Gutmann)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Paul Hindemith
rec. 24 June 1958, Stuttgart Degerloch Waldheim. ADD
SWR CLASSIC SWR19417CD [59:16]

Symphony No. 7 in E Major, WAB 107 (1885 Version with some Modifications by Bruckner. Ed. Albert Gutmann)
Kőlner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Hans Knappertsbusch
rec. 10 May 1963, Funkhaus, Köln. ADD mono
ORFEO C915181B [65:40]

It seems to reasonable to compare these two recordings, as both are mono broadcasts in excellent sound of performances using the same edition, made within a few years of each other and conducted by two eminent Brucknerians with a reputation for a driven, propulsive style and the ability to invest the music with a rare passion. It is particularly noticeable how Hindemith’s swift tempi lend a dancing quality to the beginning of the first movement but come the tempestuous central development section, all lightness is cast aside in favour of a mood of extraordinary, brooding intensity, while Knappertsbusch is even broader and heavier in manner. The climax of Kna’s first movement is decidedly more monumental than Hindemith’s; the latter is faster and more Donner to Kna’s Wotan. The slightly more distanced, opaque sound Orfeo gives Knappertsbusch suits his more numinous approach but this is presumably the best to date, being from the original, newly remastered tapes in the WDR Radio archives; however, the crisp, more immediate SWR sound is even better. Once again, I am astonished by the quality of playing from both supposedly merely regional, radio orchestras.

Hindemith’s tempi in the Adagio are considerably more mercurial and variable than Kna’s steady progress and although he brings a lyrical quality to the unfolding melody, I miss the gravitas that suffuses Kna’s account; the climactic, rising three note figures are not sufficiently emphasised but instead rather hurriedly passed over as if they were repetitions rather than perorations in themselves and – shock horror – Hindemith plays the Haas purist by omitting the customary and surely preferable cymbal and triangle clash, whereas Knappertsbusch gives it the full Nowak welly. However, the SWR horns in the closing bars are wondrously warm, dark and rich.

Knappertsbusch is a bit too pedantic in the Scherzo for my taste and Hindemith injects more pace and urgency, shaving a minute and a half off Kna’s timing and following the example of such exponents as Karajan and Furtwängler and adhering to Bruckner’s instructions, “Sehr schnell”. Knappertsbusch himself takes the movement a full two minutes faster in his 1949 recording with the VPO, so I don’t know why he chose to remain so dogged here. The effect is creepy but too galumphing and static, and the Trio is correspondingly a bit soporific.

However, it is in the finale that the differences between the pace and timings are most marked: in a movement which has long been remarked upon as comparatively short, the two minutes which Hindemith again saves compared with Knappertsbusch are significant. Hindemith is sharp, brisk and focused, running pell-mell for the finishing line with a single-mindedness that threatens to dissolve into panic. Kna, by contrast, makes stately progress with a kind of emphasis underlined by his thumping (presumably) the lectern before launching the final chorale.

In brief, these performances emerge as rather different and disparate despite their superficial links and neither represents the ideal; the best of Hindemith is found in his handling of the first movement, while it is in the Adagio that we hear Knappertsbusch at his most persuasive.

Ralph Moore


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