Nine Symphonies reports incompleteness, for the unnumbered F-minor and D-minor works, respectively ‘00’ and ‘0’ (‘Die Nullte’) are not included, a real shame, especially for the latter score, which can be delightfully Schubertian (as it was when Colin Davis conducted the LSO years ago – a treasured memory). Add up all the versions and editions, sometimes several and very different for the same Symphony, and there are more than even eleven.
Very well recorded between 2005 and 2012 at Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, Herbert Blomstedt and the Bruckner-seasoned Gewandhaus Orchestra give glorious accounts of the chosen Nine, and he is accommodating regarding texts and editors:
1: Linz version, revised, edited Nowak
2: Original score/Carragan
4: 1878/80, ed. Nowak
Differences between any one version and subsequent editing/publishing can be slight or significant. The Adagio of No.7 from Haas is without the climactic cymbal clash (welcome) – and timpani – yet the latter are present here, presumably added by Blomstedt, which is fine (and would have pleased the harmonic-conscious Robert Simpson), and the performance is magnificent; although, typically for this set of concerts, audience hubbub between movements is left intact, as is applause, too much of it – Accentus really should have taken the scissors to its tapes, although leaving the clapping reminds of Blomstedt’s mastery of crowd-control, for even following a storming fortissimo ending (all excepting No.9) there can be a notable silence before the audience reacts. And, anyway, the music-making is marvellous.
As an overview of his achievement (not his only recorded Bruckner, there’s a Decca Four and Six from San Francisco, for example), Blomstedt takes a wholesome approach to these Symphonies, appreciating the movements’ (sometimes idiosyncratic) logic and diversity, choosing persuasive tempos, not indulging a particular moment at the expense of the bigger picture, and alive to details and dynamics. Furthermore, the strings are where they should be – basses to the left, violins antiphonal with the seconds the equal of the firsts, and sometimes soaring above them.
It’s good to have the Linz original of No.1 (albeit as revised; 1866/77), much preferable to the heavier orchestration of the Vienna remake of 1891, and how admirably trusting Blomstedt is of Bruckner’s quirkiness and powerful exclamations, also his drive, intimacies and tangents, a conviction that makes him an ideal purveyor of the original pages of numbers 2 & 3, both of which would be ‘normalised’ over the years, or at least attempts made to fit them more to traditional templates, Bruckner’s allies cajoling him. As it is No.2 (with the Scherzo placed second, it moved to being third later) has an ardour and an impulse, and – slow movement – an eloquence and an ecstasy, that is a revelation (editor William Carragan is of the firm opinion that Bruckner’s first thoughts were always his best). The Third is also convincing, another hour-plus original, and Blomstedt doesn’t dawdle in this ‘Wagner’ Symphony, the composer hero-worshipping by borrowing.
If the Desert Island ever beckoned, I’d be torn between Symphonies 6 or 8 as my Bruckner companion. In the former – the composer’s most classical work – Blomstedt marries the first movement’s forward-motion with songlike phrasing, the three-part exposition beautifully bound within the Majestoso [sic] marking, the elated third subject (3:40-4:02, and reprised, being one of the greatest musical ideas Bruckner ever had) so magnanimously arresting, the rest of the Symphony very satisfying. As is the (including audience) eighty-four-minute No.8, which these days could easily have been accommodated on a single disc, the highlight being the spacious half-hour Adagio (the bonus being there is no Nowak cut) and the Symphony’s ultimate coda, cued by two timpani taps (19:34), is awe-inspiring (Wagner tubas and horns ravish the senses); frankly, it did for me … a few seconds of silence before audience appreciation.
As for the ‘Romantic’ Fourth and the mighty Fifth, the former opens with an especially lyrical horn solo, Blomstedt going on to explore the music’s forest legends, undergrowth, recesses, nocturnal strides, and heraldry, with the Finale a succession of journeying incidents, some inducing wonderment, ending gloriously on a mountaintop surveying the miracles of Nature. The Fifth could be thought of as Bruckner’s cathedral Symphony. A sense of occasion is evidenced from the off in those tramping bass pizzicatos, a specialness sustained right through the Finale’s formal rigours to a life-enhancing ending, during which a flute line rarely heard is apparent, if only just peeking through the brassy tumult.
With the three-movement unfinished Ninth (using a recent edition by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, he also being one of those who has completed the Finale, as part of a committee and as an individual), Blomstedt leads a living and breathing account that suggests Bruckner as having much less than ‘one foot in the grave’ while being compositionally adventurous and emotionally aflame: the Scherzo stamps affirmatively, the Trio even fleeter. The Adagio is not made final.
Maybe Blomstedt can still turn his attention to Symphony ‘0’; after all, nearing ninety-six he may be (July 11), he remains active – indeed on the day of this posting he is due in Dresden with the COE (Dortmund the other night, below) – and next season he is booked in Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Copenhagen (Danish National SO), Leipzig, Paris and Tokyo (NHK). May his god and microphones go with him.
Meanwhile this Blomstedt-Bruckner-Leipzig set is on Accentus Music 80575 (10 CDs) and heartily recommended.