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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal, WWV 111, Act 3 [18:27]
Prelude [7:40]
Karfreitagszauber [10:47]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (1894, ed. Nowak 1951) [62:11]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti
rec. live, 5 & 7 January 2018, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
RCO LIVE RCO18008 SACD [80:34]

Parsifal and Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony were the final works of composers who had reached their allotted biblical span of life and were soon to die, thereby inevitably conferring upon their creations a nimbus of mysticism and profundity. Indeed, both works are suffused with a golden glow suggestive of things immortal and transcendent; no wonder they make an irresistible concert pairing. I certainly would have liked to have been present at the Concertgebouw in January 2018 but must be content with this souvenir of what must have been two very enjoyable evenings from which this live, composite recording has been derived.

The great difference between the two works, of course, is that Bruckner’s remained unfinished whereas Wagner completed Parsifal and heard it performed. Here, however, we have only excerpts from Parsifal, consisting some of the best music from Act 3 in a concert arrangement and acting as a prelude to Bruckner’s symphony. The three movements Bruckner left us are then given; I remain mildly surprised that so many conductors continue to resist performing the symphony without one of the many worthy and interesting completions of the finale now available but appreciate that by no means everyone is convinced by any of them and that the work remains very satisfying in its three-movement form – all the more so if the desire is to end a concert in rapt contemplation rather than fist-pumping triumph.

Their playing of the music from Parsifal certainly allow us to hear the depth, sonority and homogeneity of the Concertgebouw, which continues to be one of the world’s top half dozen orchestras; the resonance of their lower strings is especially striking. The two excerpts are seamlessly joined, concert-fashion, and contain some of the most stirring and beautiful music in all of Wagner’s output; it surges, swells, swoons and laments to heart-searing effect, helped by Gatti’s meticulous control of dynamics but fails to deliver the climactic punch of orchestral versions by Leinsdorf and Kempe - the drama is under-played in favour of smoothness. Kempe, in particular, urges the VPO to inject real intensity into the more agonised passages reflecting the Passion.

There is a greater sense of purpose about Gatti’s Bruckner but again, for all the beauty of the playing, in the first movement I sometimes miss the monumental, granitic element present in the greatest accounts. Tempi are broad and occasionally just a little too leisurely, as, for example, in the wind elegy just before the coda, where the rallentando is obtrusive and drags. However, I find no fault with the steady, emphatic Scherzo; that movement in Bruckner is largely foolproof in any case, unless the conductor has a death-wish or the orchestra is inadequate – which is certainly not the case here. The Adagio – here acting as a finale – is suitably grand and numinous and is the most imposing of the three movements here; the climax twenty minutes in is stupendous, redolent of mystery and terror and as good as any, before the golden-tones horns bestow a blessing on a lovely, if not flawless, performance.

The live sound is unimpeachable; I heard merely the faintest cough perhaps twice and balances are ideal.

Ralph Moore

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

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