I concur with the previous, splendid review. This two DVD set is an important release for capturing von Karajan's brilliant vision of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, his personal favorite amongst ALL symphonies. I was privileged to attend Karajan's final American performance, and his penultimate anywhere, in February 1989, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the Eighth for a flu-ridden Carnegie Hall. Frail and ill, a mere 6 months before his death, his performance felt like a communique from the beyond as he somehow managed a titanic Eighth lasting 100 minutes. That performance seemed to suspend time as his Bruckner communed with the Angels. At its completion, we witnessed Karajan, his breath labored and his shriveled body barely upright, weeping through a 30 minute ovation. The audience wept as well. This performance was captured in June 1979 in St. Florian, Bruckner's own church of the Augustinian Monastery near Linz where he had been organist, and where he lies buried in the crypt beneath the organ. The performance is shorter than that final Eighth, lasting 84 minutes but is nonetheless probing, profound, and touched with an epic grandeur. The orchestral sonority is rich and multi-colored, their playing superb, frequently moving and always thrilling.
The unfinished Ninth symphony, anguished, often nightmarish with its machine-like scherzo, chilling trio and dissonant climax that seems to presage the new century, is given a tough reading of great urgency. Although the performance is not technically perfect, its conception is brilliant, the effect staggering. The Vienna Philharmonic sound massive and dark hued: the horns are weighty and monumental, the strings forceful yet lyrical, speaking insistently from out of the darkness, producing shivers down the spine. This is a troubled symphony and we are captive for its duration. The experience is shattering. The Te Deum is beautifully sung, a lofty hymn of praise, the light of faith following the long midnight of the soul. It is a splendid end to a superb concert.
These are performances that Bruckner/Karajan aficionados should enjoy and may even find revelatory. Most strongly recommended.