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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 8 in C Minor, WAB 108 (ed. Haas) [83:24]
Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra/Tadaaki Otaka
rec. live 7-8 April 2018, Festival Hall, Osaka
FONTEC FOCD 9795/6 [41:57 + 51:27]

There is a long and honourable tradition of the finest Japanese orchestras and conductors playing Bruckner; indeed, my own experience of reviewing recordings of that provenance would suggest that there is a special affinity between Japanese sensibilities and Bruckner’s idiom. Names especially associated with the composer include Hiroshi Wakasugi, Yutaka Sado, Eiji Oue – principal conductor of the Osaka Philharmonic from 2003 to 2014 – and Takashi Asahina, its founder. Anglo-Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka became its new Music Director as of April 2018, and on this showing is a worthy successor in that tradition.

This live recording of Bruckner’s masterpiece is presumably assembled from two concerts – and possibly rehearsals; there is little audience noise beyond the occasional faint cough but a possible distraction for the listener is the conductor’s habit of groaning, vocalising and semi-singing throughout, a foible which is noticeable in the quieter passages of the Adagio and the finale.

The playing is first rate and the direction invariably apt: the first movement is urgent. The Scherzo is initially fleet and lively, too, without skating over the surface, then the central Trio is languorous and relaxed, conjuring up a lazy afternoon for all the world like the Adagio molto of Vivaldi’s Autumn. (It is here, incidentally, that the conductor’s vocalism is most obtrusive.) The Adagio is serene and flowing, even if the grand climax at 21’08” could perhaps do with just a little more sense of release and punch - but I was particularly taken by certain preceding passages, such as the unearthly splendour of the horns in the Adagio at 7’40”. The finale builds inexorably to its overwhelming peroration.

This is so much better than the Bruckner Third Symphony from the same source I reviewed a couple of months ago but the conductor’s superfluous contributions could still present a disincentive to recommending it. Otherwise, it is a fine account, if not one to displace the great live recordings of the Eighth in a bewildering variety of editions from Furtwängler (his own edition, also based on Haas), Knappertsbusch (albeit in the Schalk version) and, more recently, Ballot (1890, Nowak) – an acquired taste, perhaps – Schaller (1888 variant, ed. Carragan) and Saraste (1887/90, Haas).

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

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