Support us financially by purchasing from

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) 
Symphony No. 1 (Vienna version)
Symphony No. 7 (Novak version)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Christian Thielemann
rec. 2021, Vienna Musikverein (1); Salzburg Festspielhaus (7)
UNITEL Blu-ray 807004 [181]

This is the first in a series – ‘Bruckner 11’ - in which the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra marks the 200th anniversary of Bruckner’s birth by recording all eleven symphonies, the first time they have done so with one conductor: Christian Thielemann, with whom they have had a long and fruitful relationship. (It should be mentioned that Sony Classics has launched a separate cycle of all eleven symphonies on CD with the same conductor and orchestra).

Thielemann has already completed a cycle of the numbered Bruckner symphonies for Unitel with the Dresden Staatskapelle, which has been well received, but there is much to be welcomed here as he is conducting different versions from those previously released. He has already recorded the Seventh with the Munich Philharmonic and more recently with his Dresden orchestra. This opening release was filmed at the Musikverein (No 1), and at the Festspielhaus (No 7) in Salzburg.

Bonuses to the series are the ‘Discovering Bruckner’ conversations between Thielemann and the Vienna musicologist and Bruckner expert Johannes-Leopold Meyer (54 minutes). In his introduction, Professor Daniel Froschauer, Chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, writes: ‘The close artistic and personal relationship between Anton Bruckner and the Vienna Philharmonic also contributed to the development of an unmistakeable “Brucknerian” sound and style of playing which has had an enduring influence on the composer’s legacy up to the present day.’ Of course, scheduled for release in this unique series are the first audio-visual recordings of the F minor and ‘O’ symphonies which are released as the second volume in the series together with the Fifth Symphony.

It is a little disconcerting to see the musicians dressed as for an evening concert, as the First Symphony in C minor was filmed in the empty hall of the Musikverein, but the lack of an audience, gave the cameras the opportunity to use a mobile camera to film behind the conductor, offering a panoramic view of the performance. For this presentation, five cameras are used under the direction of Benedict Mirow. I am particularly impressed both by the interpretation and performance; the magnificent strings, led by Rainer Honeck, bring out all the harmonies and vibrancy of the music – it really is as if the musicians were playing this music anew. Despite my having several recordings of this symphony, I was for the first time drawn to its mastery, which leads me to regret the rarity of performances in the concert hall. The exquisite phrasing from the flute of Wolfgang Breinschild and the oboe of Clemens Horak is a delight.

The Seventh Symphony is performed in a packed Festspielhaus where many of the audience are wearing masks. The orchestra adjusts well to the spacing between the different string groups and the wind sections, while the percussion is behind the horns. Interestingly, making fuller use of the orchestral staff, Thielemann has switched almost all the strings, and much of the woodwind and brass are different from those who played in the First Symphony, yet there is no disparity between the incredibly high standards of performance. The first violin here is Albena Danailova, the flautist is Walter Auer and the percussionist on cymbals is Oliver Madas. Regardless of the use of mostly different ensembles in these two recordings, the virtuosity of the strings and the brass and woodwind groups is world-class.

The recording captures perfectly the acoustic of the Festspielhaus and the rich harmonies of the strings and the brass. In Salzburg, seven cameras are used under the direction of Elizabeth Malzer. Thielemann makes use of cymbals in the Adagio, something he disregarded in his three previous recordings, and he justifies this in his conversation with Meyer by observing that it is a question of personal whim rather than anything to do with the version. Previously, he used the Haas version on his audio and video recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic and Dresden Staatskapelle orchestras.

This new audio-visual edition of Bruckner’s symphonic cycle is an important release for Brucknerians world-wide. There are, of course, alternatives in Valery Gergiev’s recent cycle filmed in St Florian, and there are several legendary video recordings made by Celibidache. An informative 18-page booklet with texts in English and German by the chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic Professor Daniel Froschauer is provided. I greatly enjoyed the playing and the excellent video presentation whose quality surpasses that of the previous cycle from Unitel/C major.

Gregor Tassie

Video details
Mastered from a HD source
Picture format: 1080i/16:9 Sound format: Symphonies PCM Stereo/DTS-HD MA 5.0 Bonus: PCM Stereo
Region code: A, B, C
Bonus: ‘Discovering Bruckner’ Interviews with Christian Thielemann by Johannes-Leopold Mayer in German with subtitles in English, Korean, Japanese