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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major (1881-1883) (1885, ed. Nowak 1954) [66:26]
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra/Alan Gilbert
rec. 2019, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Grosser Saal
SONY CLASSICAL 19075979532 [66:26]

This is Alan Gilbert’s first commercial recording as Chief Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester – actually made two months before he officially took up the post. My impression on first listening to this new issue was that it is rather tame; Gilbert opens in a big, dreamy, slightly ponderous vein, carefully articulating every note and giving it its full weight and length, setting the tone for the whole recording. For some his steady manner might be a little too self-conscious and deliberate but patience and the maintenance of an over-arching structure are paramount in the proper execution of Bruckner’s symphonies; subsequent re-listening has reconciled me to Gilbert’s approach, especially as the conclusion to the first movement is magnificent and his execution of the Adagio, the heart of the symphony, solemn, profound and intense, with the golden timbre of the Wagner tubas to the fore. The playing is almost invariably beautiful and the phrasing is always carefully moulded. His speeds are in fact very similar to those of Karajan, which is as good as saying ideal.

The Scherzo goes exactly as it should; Gilbert generates real menace and momentum without sacrificing lilt, injecting just the right lift into its dancing rhythm. The Trio is flowing and affectionate, rather slower than usual but providing an agreeably bucolic contrast to the demonic drive of the main subject either side of it.

The finale is similarly weighty and majestic but the witty, puckish element of the skipping string interjections, alternating with the brass outbursts, emerges intact. The conclusion is grand rather than propulsive but that is in keeping with Gilbert’s overall concept.

It is not flawless: there are one or two minor blips and imprecisions in ensemble, a certain tameness in the climactic cymbal clash in the Adagio and a few rather overdone rallentandi in the opening movement; perhaps Gilbert is there too attentive to Nowak’s- or are they perhaps Bruckner's own? - markings for those, which some conductors ignore, but by the time he gets to the finale he ploughs his own furrow. The sound is wonderfully spacious, capturing the sonority of a famous concert hall, but the dynamic range such that it is difficult to find the right level for best listening purposes.

While the field is crowded, no prospective purchaser is likely to be disappointed by this, especially audiophiles wanting to hear a performance which captures the atmosphere of the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Grosser Saal as closely as any recording can.

Ralph Moore

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

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