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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major WAB 107 (1885 version; ed. Haas)
Der Ring Tokyo Orchestra/Yoshinori Nishiwaki
rec. live, 4 & 5 September 2019, Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall
FINE NF NF65809 SACD [63:51]

The stream of recordings from Japan of Bruckner symphonies played by Japanese orchestras and conductors continues unabated, testifying to the ever-intensifying love-affair between Japanese musicians and audiences and Bruckner’s music. Many recent issues of live performances have been excellent but, in my judgement, a recurring flaw has been to take too restrained, refined and respectful an approach to symphonies which should move heaven and earth – and that is the case here. For example; the entry of the inversion of the first theme at 10:33 should be a moment of high drama but is so polite as to elicit almost no reaction from this listener; it reduces the effect to that of being (admittedly very good) background music to an epic film rather than the focal point itself which “absolute music” can be. Similarly, I derive no real sense of occasion from what should be the shattering climax to that opening movement; the Wagner tubas are very tame. That is a pity, as the virtuosity and sonority of the orchestra itself are not in doubt.

To some degree, what happens after the disappointment of that first movement is immaterial, as the occasion has been lost. The Adagio is a predictably sleepy affair: smooth and mellow, with little of the shaping and pointing of phrases which can inject the requisite tension into that beautiful music and my attention wanders. Sometimes the arpeggiated figures on the strings are so feebly articulated and the horn entries are so pusillanimous as to be exasperating. The climax is loud enough but comes out of nowhere without proper preparation. Karajan is considerably slower throughout here but wholly absorbing and concentrated. The same is true of the Scherzo, which is usually bombproof; a minute less than Karajan, it is so underpowered that it manages to sound simultaneously rushed and slack. The Trio is dull. The finale is similarly competent and uneventful, lacking rhythmic spring, and although the climax cannot fail to be effective, that is too little too late.

The sound quality is of course fine but the recording level is a little low for my taste and I increasingly found myself cranking it up – but perhaps that was also a response to the somnolent nature of the interpretation. I write merely as a layman who loves this music, but must conclude that this is a conductor who just doesn’t know how Bruckner should go. Perhaps the impact of the performances was greater live but this recording cannot stand up to comparison with classic recordings and leaves me largely unmoved.

Ralph Moore

(This review is posted here by kind permission of the Bruckner Journal)



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