on 28 May 2012
I have been listening to recordings of this symphony for more than fifty years, and to completed versions since the 1980s, but no previous account has thrilled me as much as this one. The orchestra is superb, and Rattle shapes the movements beautifully, building up relentlessly to the huge dissonant climaxes. The finale sounds as near to echt-Bruckner as one could wish, though nothing can be definitive as long as there is the possibility that some or all of the stolen pages may turn up. An added bonus is that it is all on one CD - a feat in itself! I have read the ten previous reviews, and it seems to me that there is a lot of nit-picking in the 3 and 4 star ones.
on 25 July 2012
I looked forward to hearing these lastest/last thoughts on the Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca version of the final movement, at last performed by a top conductor/orchestra combo. In short, this recording is fine, but from a purely visceral point of view, the earlier SPCM revisions, as performed by Wildner and Layer are superior. Why? The ending!
Other reviewers have found the very ending of this latest revision unsatisfactory and I am in complete agreement. Yes the momentum *is* sustained, but it sounds as though it is tacked on in an attempt to finish the movement as soon as possible in case anyone notices it wasn't composed by Bruckner. It almost feels as though the ending was badly spliced in from another recording session. Why did SPCM change their inspirational ending with a pause and a final massive crescendo? This had far greater impact and in fact added to the momentum. The scholars have certainly 'buggered [it] up' as - Bernard Michael O'Hanlon says in his review here on Amazon. The ealier versions/revisions with the pause and the crescendo (e.g. Wildner on Naxos and more recently Friedmann Layer and the National Theatre Orchestra of Mannheim) are overwhelming and far, far, superior in my opinion.
Like Bruckner in his earlier symphonies, it seems the scholars lack confidence in their creation - constantly revising, but not necessarily improving. They have sacrificed heart for head - so their final revision is not their most spiritual.
on 22 May 2012
After finding much to love in Rattle's previous Bruckner 4th, also with the Berliners, I hoped that this reading would seal Rattle's success as a Brucknerian. In the "Romantic" Symphony, Rattle had made his case by emphasizing the work's romantic qualities, letting pure lyricism come forth. But the 9th Symphony demands a certain commitment to a dark world that isn't all about joy. Could Rattle find meaning in a work that throbs with inherent spirituality? And could he make a persuasive case for this new completed version of the finale?
I had my doubts. I'm a devoted fan of Rattle's, considering his Brahms' symphonies set and his Schoenberg disc from last year to be monumental achievements, but I had no small qualms about the idea of a transversal into Bruckner's most religiously intense work. Rattle has transformed the Berliners into a band that shines with a transparency that I'm not sure we've ever seen anywhere else. I'm yet to find a conductor who even approaches Rattle in his ability to make the most out of the most intricate details in the score. I knew we would experience world-class voicing. But would Rattle merely fuss over Bruckner's immense score, leaving us with great orchestral playing but little more?
The answer, thank God, is a resounding no. I'm reeling under the shock of how good this disc is. Instead of relying on his orchestra's ability to make beautiful sounds, Rattle has found dark intensity in the work. Who know that he had such a feel for the long line? I'm not sure if even Karajan betters him in this regard. But what separates him from his great predecessor is his flexibility. Where Karajan is rigid, Rattle lets the line expand, producing moments of soulfulness that reaches into the beyond. I was astonished at how successfully Rattle is able to let the music fluctuate. He understands that there are times when the music needs to stop and breathe. Yet for all his flexibility, he never once sounds mannered or fussy. He knows when to build and when to hold back--you never want to let go too soon in Bruckner.
What Rattle isn't insistent on producing is terror. A fellow reviewer and friend finds this album less than satisfactory for that reason. I can see his point--the music doesn't scare us as with Karajan--yet for myself I feel the music can almost sink in deeper when bombast isn't employed. Rattle is so sincere that the music is often heartbreaking. Instead of frightening us, Rattle draws us near and lets the poeticism of the work move us. There was hardly a moment in the entire symphony that I wasn't fighting the tears. This is music-making on a level that denies the power of words. Expansive and fraught with fervent emotion, Rattle lets all the bittersweet memories of the past wash over us in waves.
The Berliners play with all the authority we'd expect. Listeners are sure to notice that Rattle doesn't give the brass the prominence they usually receive in Bruckner. They're not overpowered, though, just kept in check enough to let the rest of the orchestra clearly state their parts. In a miracle of inspiration, Rattle lets us hear details that we wouldn't dreamed of hearing before, yet it somehow welds into a comprehensive whole.
As for the completed finale, Rattle interprets it so well that it seems that it always belonged. Rattle claims in the liner notes that there's more Bruckner here than there is Mozart in his Requiem and I'm inclined to agree. I hope it wins acceptance.
Rattle as arrived as a mature Brucknerian. This is a huge victory for the conductor, one who has struggled convincing critics that he has what it takes to master the German romantic repertoire. If this isn't success, I'm not sure what is. If Karajan were still here, he no doubt would tremble for fear that his elevated position as THE Brucknerian was in danger. And I'm serious--this is that good.
on 7 June 2014
This CD is the first four movement version of Bruckner's final symphonic masterpiece that I have purchased. For years, I have been used to the idea of Bruckner's Ninth symphony as three movements which were probably perfection in themselves. The slow movement ends in tranquillity and there is widespread belief that the Adagio was Bruckner's farewell to life. This perception has been challenged by some commentators on the grounds that such a valedictory ending was atypical for Bruckner. Irrespective of these divergent interpretations however, at least to my ears, the third movement version remains the preferred version of the symphony. The finale of the four movement version is more like an arrangement, founded on the design emerging from the reconstructed sketches. There is no doubt that issues of harmonic instability culminate in the reconstructed finale. Harmonic uncertainties are persistingly evident. These are somehow stabilized in the coda but the emotional impact on the listener falls short of the typical monumental Bruckner coda such as in the seventh or eight symphonies.
As for the performance, it is as fine as any. The Berlin Philharmonic, as would be expected, is in great form. This is probably the best Bruckner that Rattle has done so far, much more convincing that the Bruckner 4.
Of course, there are great three movement versions of this monumental symphony available in the catalogue. Try, for instance, Wand with the Berlin Philharmonic, arguably the top recommendation, or Harnoncourt with the Vienna Philharmonic. Nevertheless, buy this four movement version for the sake of the philosophical and to some extent musical debate surrounding the incompleteness of Bruckner's masterpiece. Recommended.
A sonically magnificent reading of Bruckner's last symphony by arguably the world's finest orchestra. I heard detail missed in earlier readings, helped by superior recording technology, which Rattle has nurtured in a deeply sensitive interpretation, especially in the first and third movements: the Wagner tubas and the lower strings make an overwhelming impression. Like many reviewers, it is the sheer sound experience, especially in Bruckner's valedictory Adagio movement that leaves behind such an abiding impression after several hearings. It is a worthy candidate in the BBC Music Magazine short list for the best orchestral recording of 2012.
Like other reviewers, I have problems with the last movement. Possibly we have become accustomed through tradition to the slow movement ending the work as it does, representing the composer's farewell, ending as it does in those final broken phrases. Does anything more really need to be said? The start of the reconstructed finale is, frankly, a disappointment, though the continuation into the long brass chorale fares better, and the symphony ends as triumphantly as its predecessor. Clearly Bruckner intended that his symphony should end this way, whatever problems this might have caused him. Further hearings have helped a bit, but I am not completely convinced. I think that on most future hearing I shall be sticking to the three movement version.
on 4 July 2012
If one buys this CD for the latest realisation of the Finale then I would rate it 5 stars. It's gloriously played and probably gets as close to Bruckner's intentions had he completed it as could be achieved. That said, the coda, for example, is still missing of course, and we shall never know how close these efforts are to the composer's intentions, fine though the scholarship is.
There is, however, considerable excellent competition for the normal three-movement version and, to my ears anyway, this would not be my desert island choice. (Reviews in music magazines seem not to have bothered to make comparisons.) Rattle presses on a bit too urgently in the first movement, missing something of the spiritual element. The sound also. curiously, does not seem to quite match the usual BPO releases, maybe because this is a live performance. Regarding the latter point, the applause is faded out too quickly and there are insufficient gaps between the movements as well - and no ambient atmosphere is there. At 82 minutes it's the very maximum time that can be accommodated. The recording was taken from a series of three concerts. For one of the concerts Rattle played the Scherzo a bit quicker and he was asked if that performance could be used for the recording, so that the whole could be put - squashed I would say - on one disc, to which he agreed. But a double CD would have been better.
on 21 August 2013
Beautiful playing although the first movement lacks tension...... Adagio is the highlight. The completed last movement is fascinating with some sublime passages, although one wishes Bruckner had lived to complete it himself despite the excellent job done in the reconstruction.....
on 16 August 2012
This is a perfectly good performance. Not the best, in my opinion - nobody does Bruckner better than Wand - and the energy of the music sometimes seems lost under the lush romantic sound. I'd be happy to live with it, though. But, after many decades of just the three movements, I find myself unconvinced by the fourth. I'm warming to it a bit more as I listen to it more, but it somehow doesn't seem to blend with what has gone before, either musically or in orchestration. It puts me in mind of the original version of the fourth symphony (Great recording of this by Simone Young.)There is a completeness, a finality, at the end of the third movement, and this final movement seems somehow superfluous and unnecessary. I'll persevere, and might think differently in a year's time, but for now, the three movements approach perfection on their own.
on 23 May 2012
Despite a professed love of the Austro-Germanic tradition, I've always been something of a Bruckner-phobe. The stentorian heft of all those symphonies has proved too daunting. At least when Mahler proclaims his 'eternal yes', it's followed by a trailing 'why?' Such preconceptions are unfounded, based upon a specious fear of Bruckner's more rational art. But, as Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker's latest recording testifies, there's as much self-doubt in Bruckner as in any of his fellow symphonists.
The completion of Bruckner 9 - left written out though fragmentary at the composer's death - will be covered more ably elsewhere. So this post is more about the performance than musicological losses or gains. Completions are controversial, but here the full scope of Bruckner's design allows access to a unique symphonic vision. Rather than self-assurance and endless space, as I had imagined, Rattle's 9 begins with palpable nervousness. The Berliner Philharmoniker has been playing a lot of Mahler and Strauss recently. Had those strains (in both senses) found a way into this teleological mass?
Heroic horns pacify the tension of that opening, only in turn to land on a sighing suspensions and elicit the tender hesitance of the Berlin strings. Together these sections coalesce in a Tristan-like crescendo, where bravura is undermined or at least moderated by a parallel stream of neurosis. Throughout, Rattle is alive to the merest shift in motivic significance, as unequivocal heroism collapses in on itself and something truer emerges. Crystalline woodwind and warm but edgy brass add further interpretive clout to this narrative.
After such an epic tale, the initial understatement of the scherzo forestalls the ferociousness in store. Thereon in Bruckner's dance takes on a truly savage swing. The same vehemence comes through in the Adagio, lending a more erotic tone to Bruckner's slow movement than in Barenboim or Giulini. It is here that Rattle's full-blooded reading may become too driven (doubtless symptomatic of a live recording). While the spirit of Parsifal is never far away, here Wagner's eponymous hero throws himself at Kundry.
The revised completion of the finale (by Nicola Samale, Giuseppe Mazzuca, John A. Phillips and Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs) continues headlong into the crisis. Here, however, Rattle keeps a more moderate grip on the score. Relishing its petulance, while exposing the fractures, this is music that not only embraces Wagnerian hopes for regeneration but also the inherent flaws in such a plan. As the movement hurtles towards its more numinous conclusion, Rattle unleashes the full might of the Berliner Philharmoniker and my doubts finally vanish. This is a huge but humane symphony, delivered with riveting zeal.
on 29 July 2013
I got this as I was interested in how the symphony was finished posthumously. The booklet goes over my head a bit but still a good piece of music well played. I have the Wand version - unfinished. And like them both.