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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 8 (1887/90 Mixed Versions. ed. Robert Haas [1939])
West Australian Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch
rec. live, 9 November 2018, Perth Concert Hall, Perth, Australia
Reviewed as 320k mp3 download
ABC CLASSICS [no number] [77.14]

This is the first in a projected series; according to the website notes: “ABC Classic and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra today announce the launch of WASO LIVE!, a new series of digital albums that will showcase the very best of this powerhouse ensemble’s live concerts, vividly recorded by ABC Classic’s team of live music engineers.” Thus it seems that this series will be available only as downloads. The “cover” image is unusual: “The WASO LIVE! series artwork will feature bright, bold and iconic images of the unique natural landscapes of WASO’s home, Western Australia.”

I admit to being taken by surprise by the quality of every aspect of this recording, especially as I have hitherto not been so much impressed by recordings made by another of Australia’s major symphony orchestras in Melbourne. I should, however have known better than to succumb to such a prejudice, especially as we are talking about a completely different outfit. The orchestral playing, the conducting and the sound here are all mightily impressive. Asher Fisch has had a relationship with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra for twenty years and has been its principal conductor for five; over that time, he has clearly built it up to be a magnificent outfit and his concert performances preceding the release of the Brahms symphonies on CD were greeted with critical acclaim. The timings of this performance – especially accounting for the breaks, this being live - are slightly on the swift side but never sound rushed. To my ears, the orchestra has admirable technical prowess and makes a beautiful sound, lacking only the kind of Innigkeit, torque and glow that the greatest orchestras generate for the climactic moments, such as the surging wave of sound culminating in the E-flat major sunburst with the cymbal clash marking the high-point of the Adagio at 20:27. Otherwise, this is an expertly executed, weighted and balanced account, but misses that last, indefinable element of personality and presence which marks the greatest recordings and as such remains comparatively earthbound when it should soar. The opening chorale of the finale is fierce and urgent; this is really exciting playing which maintains tension throughout a movement which can easily sag, ending with a sense of the grand and numinous in a Wagnerian brass blaze in C major. (My preferred Haas version is played here; for those interested in hearing a live performance of the riskier 1887 edition I recommend Simone Young with the Hamburg Philharmonic.)

There is virtually no audience noise and the recording is admirably full and balanced. This will not replace favourite recordings but is a worthy, satisfying account of some of the greatest music known to humanity.

Ralph Moore

(This review is reproduced here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal which commissioned it.)

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