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Bruckner sy7 MYR030
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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107 (ed. Nowak, 3rd revised ed. 2003)
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth
rec. live, 8-10 October 2019, Kölner Philharmonie, Germany
MYRIOS MYR030 [56:44]

This is the first in yet another planned cycle of Bruckner’s symphonies aiming for completion in time for his birthday bicentenary in 2024. Roth’s intent is to portray Bruckner as both a Romantic and “a trailblazer of Modernism”; he also places emphasis upon the symphony’s significance as a memorial both to Wagner, whose grave in Bayreuth Bruckner visited just before completing the work, and to the hundreds of people who died in “the catastrophic, deadly fire in the Vienna Ringtheater on December 8th, 1881” – the worst disaster in the history of theatre accidents. Nonetheless, although the Adagio is funereal, the symphony moves inexorably towards consolatory resolution in a redemptive C major and is as the notes say, “is perhaps Bruckner’s brightest, most life-affirming work”, so there is no call for the manner of its delivery to be lugubrious.

A typical performance of this symphony takes around the 65-minute mark, but Charles Munch’s 1958 recording in Boston is exactly 52 minutes, Walter Bruno took 55 minutes in 1954 and Toscanini – not the first Bruckner conductor you think of – was no typically no slouch at 58 minutes. By contrast, Celibidache’s slowest recording is 86 minutes. That’s enough of meaningless numbers, but it gives you an idea of how, at 56:44, this is one of the fastest recordings in the discography.

The beautiful tone of the cellos and the smoothly graded dynamics, ranging from a true, barely audible pianissimo in the opening to a splendidly brassy conclusion, are immediately engaging but I would certainly like Roth to linger longer over those phrases, as I cannot help but feel slightly harried. Roth’s briskness rather precludes a sense of awe but the relatively light – not thin, but definitely transparent – body of sound produced by the strings lends an ethereal nature to their line, an effect heightened by their sparing use of vibrato and the antiphonal division of the violins. Nonetheless, the stern choral at 9:48 could surely do with more weight, even though the atmosphere is right.

That fluidity and propulsion are most evident in the Adagio, which is a full four minutes faster than either Karajan or Haitink and for me some of the massive dignity and grandeur leaches from the music when it is delivered so directly. Having said that, the Gesangsperiode beginning three and a half minutes into the movement is fresh and lilting. The arpeggiated build-up to the cymbal clash from around thirteen minutes onwards is carefully sculpted but the climactic moment itself is relatively tame. Your response to Roth’s approach really will be a matter of taste, as it is certainly played wholly coherently and sensitively. His driven manner of course suits the fleet Scherzo and makes it sit more organically within the symphony as a whole rather than contrasting vividly – but neither does he underplay the lyricism of the bucolic little Trio. The celebratory mood of the finale is enhanced by the crisp pizzicato and bouncy brass rhythms, the pace lending urgency to its unfolding such that the listener is more excited than transported.

The clarity of this performance is amplified by the clean, yet warm natural acoustic of the Kölner Philharmonie. If you like in your Bruckner a lean purity of sound devoid of any hint of “plushness” and the kind of momentum that avoids any risk of stasis, this is for you. My preference remains with recordings requiring more patience such as those by Haitink, now my favourite alongside Karajan’s 1975 DG recording and Eichhorn’s.

Ralph Moore

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