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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107 (1885 Version with modifications by Bruckner; ed. Albert Gutmann)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Carl Schuricht
rec. live, 25 January 1961, Victoria Hall, Geneva. Mono EPITAGRAPH EPITA006 [59:57]
There are probably something approaching 150 recordings of Bruckner’s most popular symphony in the catalogue, so knowing where to start is problematic. It probably isn’t necessarily with a live, mono recording by an orchestra not especially renowned for sumptuousness of tone, although the presence of Schuricht certainly presents an inducement to hear this. He was already over eighty when he conducted this performance and had acquired quite a reputation as a Brucknerian, conducting his symphonies regularly in an age when that was a rarer occurrence.
The brittle mono sound and occasional cough are superficial barriers to enjoyment but soon ignored by any listener with a will. Schuricht’s manner is immediately free, fluid and rhapsodic, lighter than many an interpreter and less compromised, I suppose, by the shrill string tone and recessed bass here than weightier accounts. I am unsure whether that shrillness is a characteristic of the orchestra or the engineering; perhaps both. I do find Schuricht’s way with the music to be constantly interesting and engaging, however; there is something rather “modern” about his freedom. However, the scratchy sound, residual hiss and boxy acoustic do become more of a barrier to appreciating the free-flowing Adagio, which unfolds naturally without bombast – but I am disappointed by the absence of the cymbal and triangle clash. The Scherzo is one of the fastest – if not the fastest – in the catalogue, although it just sounds propulsive rather than breathless, especially as the Trio is surprisingly leisurely and reposeful, providing a rare moment of calm. Schuricht’s characteristically spry, sparkling direction helps confer some sense of unity on the three, disparate, main themes of the finale. He certainly doesn’t try to minimise its galumphing eccentricities but revels in them. The orchestra isn’t always up to the demands of the music; intonation and ensemble become ragged over the last, climactic three minutes although there is no shortage of excitement and the audience response is instantly enthusiastic before the applause is abruptly cut off.
My default choices for this symphony have long been Eichhorn, Sanderling or any of Karajan’s recordings up to and including his final one; more recent successes include recordings by Schaller, Ballot and Nelsons. This recording, however, falls into the vintage category where Furtwängler and Knappertsbusch jointly reign. If you prefer a more mercurial, less magisterial approach to this music than what they provide and I prefer, you might well gravitate towards Schuricht here.
(This review was commissioned and reproduced here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal.)