Bruckner is no ordinary symphonist, and even among his symphonies, the 9th stands out as "special". Bruckner died before completing the fourth movement, although he did leave behind extensive sketches. But unlike Mahler's 10th, or the Mozart Requiem, there has been very little interest in "completing" this work, as its 3-movement structure is in itself completely satisfying and I, for one, would no more think of tacking on a "finale" than I would of sticking chrome-plated plastic arms on the Venus de Milo. You might guess that I have about a dozen recordings of this symphony - I never tire of hearing it though new interpretations. Sir Colin Davis makes what I believe to be his Bruckner-recording debut with this release, recorded live at the Barbican in February 2002.
Sir Colin made a reputation for himself back in the 60's with his fire-eating recordings of Berlioz, and in the 70's with his first Sibelius cycle with the Boston Symphony. I've always been a fan of his, especially with Dvorak and Sibelius, and was eager to hear his "take" on Bruckner. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.
This performance is taken at a VERY slow pace - slower than Furtwangler's 1944, slower than Jochum, Karajan, or Tintner. The first movement suffers the most - at 28'33", it is eventually drained of life and the brass coda is stretched out of shape. The strings are recorded well but sound sluggish rather than sumptuous. The scherzo is *longer* than most other recordings but the reason isn't the actual tempo - for reasons best known to himself, Sir Colin inserts pauses (virtually stops) between sections. This creates (to my ear) a "gear-grinding" effect rather than the stamping malevolence I would normally associate with this movement. The finale is taken at a more usual pace, but I get no sense of either "architecture" (Karajan-style) nor of "spiritualism" (a la Jochum)- more like music by the book. At no extra charge, you get a howler printed in the liner notes: Bruckner's dates are given as 1906-1975!
So - not my recommended performance, not even 2nd, 3rd, or 4th place. MY #1 choice is Jochum with the Berlin Philharmonic (NOT the Dresden recording), followed by Furtwangler (as far as I know, the many issues on many labels out there are ALL the same 1944 performance, again with the BPO). Sir Colin's recording of the Bruckner 6th should be available in Spring 2003, and I *will* be checking that out.