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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 9 in D minor, WAB 109 (1894 Cohrs revised edition)
Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra/Tadaaki Otaka
rec. live, 12 & 13 February 2021, Festival Hall, Osaka
FONTEC FOCD9851 [59:12]

I have almost to suppress a feeling of being cheated these days when I see a new recording of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony without one of the many completions of the finale now available as I have become habituated to expecting to hear it. Having said that, I am happy to accept that the sublime Adagio still constitutes a satisfactory conclusion.

Previous live recordings emanating from the same source have proved to be a mixed bag; their Eighth Symphony was certainly much more recommendable than their Third, and in my reviews of them I felt obliged to issue a caveat to the prospective purchaser that whatever the quality of the performances, a tolerance is demanded for the conductor’s persistent habit of providing an all-too-audible vocal obbligato which I am sure both audience and listener must find distracting and even irritating. I was hoping to report that on this occasion there is no such issue and it is certainly less marked; we are only very occasionally treated to Otaka’s singalong. The recording itself – the product of selecting takes from two consecutive live performances – is from an aesthetic point of view an undoubted success - and I can detect no audience noise whatsoever.

We know from previous recordings that the Osaka Philharmonic is a fine outfit – not always the last word in refinement or tonal bloom, perhaps but still admirable and they impress from the very first bars with the weight and sonority of their playing, instantly creating the requisite air of brooding mystery. The singing second theme is elegantly shaped and orchestral tutti sounding the third theme is mightily sonorous. The conclusion is tremendously impressive as only Bruckner can be when played with conviction. The pizzicato opening to the Scherzo is played with impish – no, demonic – glee and the pounding orchestral rejoinder is splendidly rhythmically precise and biting, contrasting vividly with fleet, tripping 3/8 Totentanz of the Trio – but unfortunately Otaka becomes intermittently more audibly voluble throughout it. The opening to the Adagio is a little coarse and blunt for “A Farewell to Life” and I would like a little more poise and restraint, but the orchestra itself makes such a wonderful noise that I cannot complain; the Wagner tubas in particular are magnificent. The second theme flows in stately fashion before the Dresden Amen is reprised and repeated to heart-breaking effect; Otaka shapes and phrases all this expertly. The “sunburst” change of key at 15:07 is magical, the great climax is overwhelming and the serene apotheosis of the coda is beautifully managed.

Whether we need yet another recording of Bruckner’s Ninth is a moot point; I can only say that this one is furnished with the best sound and does honour to the score as a thoroughly enjoyable account, even if it constitutes no compelling reason to purchase it over established classic versions in the catalogue.

Ralph Moore

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

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