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Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (DG The Originals)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2013
I have grown into Karajan's recorded performances over the years, having deemed them a bit too lush, smooth, and possibly even superficial at times. That was a misjudgment. Neither he nor the VPO got where they are today by being superficial.
This great work, rated by many as the greatest in the romantic classical repertoire, cannot be limited by just one interpretation; I have many, but this ranks among the best.
There is dynamism, thoughtfulness, occasional restraint, and even some humility in this performance, all of which are commendable: this is a lily which needs no gilding.
The orchestra plays with the cohesion and involvement of a string quartet: every entry is synchronous, every phrase is lovingly crafted, but the expressiveness appears to come from the music itself, from the hand of the composer, rather than the expertise of the players or the conductor.
Herein lies the "Wow" factor.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2012
Terminus, the god of boundaries and ends, is my favourite Roman deity. Whenever I hear this celebrated performance of the Eighth, I wonder whether it is a Canticle in his honour.

In keeping with the sentiment above, rather than bumbling my way through a review, let's defer to Horace:

"Dead to all shame, I left my household gods; now
Shameless again, I keep Death waiting. O hear me,
Some god in heaven, and sentence me to walk stripped
Naked among wild beasts . . . While the victim is still tender, let my beauty bleed on the tiger's tooth.

*****

Come, my last love, for here I reach the end
Of Loving, and no woman shall excite me
Ever again - come, learn this air
And sing it to delight me
A good song can repair
The ravages inflicted by black care."

One more recording was to follow: the Bruckner Seventh with the Vienna Philharmonic but it sounds post-coital from the first bar. In fealty to Terminus, Karajan should have stopped here.

You'll find more things of heaven and earth in this performance of the Eighth than a million dusty sermons. It by no means displaces Karajan's stupendous 1944 recording (yes, the first movement is missing but the finale is in glorious stereo and Karajan adds another four minutes to it Bruckner;Symphony No.8) but it runs it damned close like no other does.

DG's Original Image Bit Processing has been around since 1995. In its first phase it consisted of transfers to a 20-bit platform. It is now 24-bit. Across the series, DG promises 'Added Presence and Brilliance - Greater Spatial Definition'. While the hype does not always live up to reality (eg, Bruckner: Masses Nos 1-3 is a worse transfer than the old white & gold box), it is applicable here. The November 1988 recording was fabulous for its time. In this revamp, it is demonstration class and beyond.

Reach for the skies !
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Not all of Karajan's almost obsessive re-makes are by any means an improvement on what came before but this, his penultimate Bruckner recording from November 1988 (the Seventh was recorded in April 1989) and one of his last studio recordings before his death in July of the following year, is undoubtedly one of his greatest.

Indeed, some would call this the greatest recording of the greatest symphony by the greatest conductor and I'm not going to bother to debate that highly contentious claim; I would merely say that it represents a distillation of everything both the composer and Karajan were trying to achieve, and is one of the most profoundly moving and spiritually uplifting recordings in the entire canon.

First, a few canards to dispose of. The sound is superb; not at all typical of the thin glassy, screechy early digital recordings which too often appeared in the 80's but is rather rich, warm and full with a remarkably good combination of balance, transparency and warmth. The virtuosity of different sections of the VPO emerges clearly, especially the Wagner tubas and the trumpets and horns combined at the end of the first movement. The dynamic range is ideal; pianissimi whisper and fortissimo tutti thunder without distortion.

Nor is this by any means an especially slow or indeed in the least lethargic account. True, Karajan is not as quick as the nervy, Romantic Furtwängler (who uses his own edition of the 1892 first performance score) in 1944 with the VPO, or Maazel (who uses the shorter Nowak edition, in any case) with the BPO in 1989. Karajan is in fact faster in the last two movements than in his famous 1944 recording with the Preussische Staatskapelle Orchestra (missing the first movement and the last movement, astonishingly for 1944, in stereo Bruckner;Symphony No.8 - see my review) or the equally celebrated 1957 account Bruckner: Symphony No.8 - again, see my review) even though he is using the 1890 Haas edition with more cuts restored than in the 1892 performing version. Wand, using the original score of 1887 is the longest and slowest, even if that does exert a hypnotic fascination of its own, with its aureola of sound and the effect of waves incessantly washing ashore.

Finally, there is not a trace of the supposedly "smooth, homogenised" sound Karajan was accused of imposing on the Berlin Philharmonic or indeed any orchestra he conducted post 1970. This is vibrant, thrilling playing of enormous impact.

The climax of the first movement at 9' is overwhelming in its intensity, as is the culminating highpoint of the Adagio at 20'; the music unrolls like some celestial landscape before the listener and the sumptuous of the orchestral sound is extraordinary; the VPO simply sings in one great, corporate voice. To take but one example of the magic they create: listen at 7' 10" to the gentle soughing of the horns over pizzicato low strings, repeatedly punctuated by the flutes - magical playing.

Karajan knew how to make Bruckner's music breathe; he was a master of the long line and never lets the tension sag in this magisterial account. There is a sense of harmony and unanimity of purpose about this recording, perhaps enhanced by Karajan's knowledge that he was not long for this world, which infuses it with a special, transcendent quality suggestive of the next. Hear it for yourself.

PS: Fellow reviewer Stewart Crowe helpfully informs me:

"This recording was made in 4 complete takes of a movement apiece, with the intention of patching sessions the following year after the Salzburg Festival. This undoubtedly gives the performance a more spontaneous feel. Sadly of course the patching sessions never took place, and patching has taken place from the original tapes- I won't point them out but on a few occasions you can hear the same slight imprecisions repeated."
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on 23 May 2015
Amazing performance which sounds very slightly better in this reissue than on my original CDs. I have been comparing it with the Wand 8th with the BPO which is a perhaps clearer recording still. Although Wand is often close to Karajan, he does not quite sweep you to the end with the confidence that Karajan does, right down to the timing of the final chords. With Karajan it is orgasmic, but Wand seems to hold back just a little and the ending, though fine on its own, does not quite match Karajan's. It was sad how the critics reviled K. after his death. He was a great conductor of the Romantics - his Bruckner, Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Debussy were magical at their best as was his Sibelius and Shostakovich. (I was less convinced by his Beethoven and Brahms.) He had the ability to usually find the right tempo and more or less stick to it, yet he never sounded rigid, like so many modern performances. I generally like Jochum in Bruckner but not in this particular symphony. This recording should probably be in everyone's collection.
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If I read about performances of this symphony, words like monumental keep cropping up - but this is much more than a symphonic cathedral or anything like it. I'm no musical expert, and I wouldn't dream of attempting to criticize anyone's performance. I chose this recording on the basis of how I've come to appreciate and above all ENJOY Karajan's interpretations over the years (most of all in the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss, along with those,of Kempe), and I enjoy this performance by a great orchestra working with a great Bruckner interpreter. The performance drives on throughout, and the recording is top-class; thoroughly enjoyable and a fine memory of HvK in his late years.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This classic recording of Symphony 8 by Bruckner is a rich and powerful version. Here we have the later 1890 edition performed by Herbert Von Karajan and the Wiener Philharmoniker Orchestra.
After the first edition in 1887 had been presented to Bruckner's collaborator conductor Hermann Levi and rejected as impossible to perform, Bruckner revised the composition in 1890. Some may prefer the validity of the earlier edition that was longer and has double wood wind instead of the triple here. But although Bruckner may have bowed to pressure from the likes of Levi and other critics He obviously was happy with the revision and I feel that this recording does justice to the edition.
The Digital recording is excellent and the clarity and balance are just right. The recording is a few years old now but you cannot go wrong with this fine release. It is a magnificent work and an equally magnificent recording.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2013
Great symphony,Furtwangler thought it the greatest of all,Karajan coaxes the utmost from the VPO,and on one disc(hate split symphonies)this is unbeatable.
I'm tempted to say"Smoking Herb",but this ain't reggae!
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on 31 January 2015
Great piece of music.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 February 2013
A much over-hyped recording; not a testament, as is so often implied, given its proximity to the conductor's death - so convenient for the biographers and eulogists. Karajan's actual final recording was issued in 1990, a Bruckner 7, a truly great and revelatory version. This Bruckner 8, as is not stressed in the latest DG Originals reissue, was one of his Telemondial video projects (you can get the DVD) and the preoccupation with visuals usually got the better of him.

I was tempted back because, no matter where I look, there is a flute solo in the first movement so beguilingly phrased as to eclipse all other recommendations. Sadly, one short solo does not make a proper recommendation, and the rest is surprisingly small scale, at its best in the 1st and 3rd movements but tedious in the scherzo and finale. The liner notes pay rich tribute to HvK's career as a conductor of this symphony, one that alongide the Brahms 1st was probably his favourite, but that isn't enough to make this 1988 version, reissued on 1 CD when previously issues on 2 CDs and at around £30, a primary recommendation. Warts and all, the 1975 Berlin recording is more exciting and the 1957 one is the grandest and boldest. A 1957 Salzburg broadcast with the VPO (Orfeo) is also highly recommendable for enthusiasts, fascinatingly distinguished from the EMI studio version.

Beyond Karajan, Gunter Wand's 87min Berlin recording (RCA) is a stupendous, barnstorming affair. Furtwangler, HvK's predecessor in Berlin, gives a performance of unique flexibility and effervescence (1944, Vienna), and despite using a corrupted edition, Hans Knappertsbusch was all over this symphony when he conducted the Berliners back in 1951. Bernard Haitink also gave of his best when put in front of the Vienna Phil back in 1995.
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