I'm still trying to figure out what about the sound it is that made one reviewer down-rate this wonderful live recording. Yes, Royal Albert Hall is the size of a sports stadium and tends to sound like one - it's not where I would have liked this (or anything else of consequence) to be recorded. But: of the several BBC Legends discs I own, some, like Tennstedt's 1985 Beethoven 9th, sound quite well indeed (I'm tempted to say better than any live event I've witnessed there in person). This live Bruckner from 1982 is recorded similarly well, even if ironically, the less distant but drier-sounding Falla pieces from 1963 manage to have impact without clutter (that uneven sense of reverberation and lost echo across the spectrum of too great a hall) - if at the cost of greater audience noise. By the way, comparing the Bruckner to the 1986 DG studio version, one notices once again that a successful high-resolution remastering of an analogue tape will sound less grainy than early to mid-eighties digital. I for one am rather satisfied with the sound here.
More importantly, Giulini's live recording "solves a problem" I've always had with the studio version (which, despite a number of alternatives in my collection, nevertheless remains or remained up to now, my favourite Bruckner 7th of all): the performance of the symphony as a whole comes off as more of one piece. The first two movements in the studio version (with transitions of a single-mindedness that seem to belie the fact that an orchestra is made up of a crowd of players) amount to a quasi-religious experience of unprecedented magnitude (forget the "quasi": the kind that would turn a heretic into a Catholic!), so much so that the symphony seems doomed to remain top-heavy. In the perhaps futile attempt to give them equal weight, Giulini makes the latter two movements sound comparatively laboured, well-played as they may be. I have listened to the studio recording, loved it and compared it to other versions for twenty years, and each and every time the first two movements make me wonder how on earth Giulini will keep up their awesome, breathtaking monumentality, intensity, concentration and sheer tonal beauty. Believe me, after all these years, I am still sitting in front of my stereo hoping for some miracle to happen in the latter two movements...
Listening to the balanced, harmonious live recording today, I'm more than ever convinced it could not be done. The more transparent, Ländler (that is, Austrian barn dance) -inspired mood Giulini sets in the live version from the very beginning makes me think he already held the key to a rounded overall experience in his hand back in 1982, and perhaps tried too hard in the Vienna studio four years later. Slightly less of an ascent to Heaven in London maybe, but no let-down from beginning to end (never mind what appears an incident of wind player fatigue in the last movement). The longer I compare the two versions, I feel as if this live one already had all I love about the studio one, plus greater overall fleetness to boot (on paper, it's really only the timings of the first two movements that differ), and that whoever makes its acquaintance free from the "prior charge" of knowing the studio version by heart must fall head over heels in love with it. Even so, you'll have to pry my out-of-print copy of the studio version from my cold dead fingers.
Greetings from Switzerland, David.
The fillers are nicely played, no doubt, but hardly the reason one needs to own this disc. Top recommendations for Falla's Three Cornered Hat must go to the legendary recordings by Ansermet (1961 Decca London) and Jorda (1960 Everest/Vanguard). My favourite Khovanshchina Prelude remains Solti's from 1966 (Decca).