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Customer Review

9 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three and a half stars for this unconvincing account, though it has its moments. A disappointment overall., 24 May 2012
This review is from: Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 (Audio CD)
A few years ago, there was a move to oust Rattle as Music Director of the BPO, instigated by members of the orchestra and the City Council which provides a subsidy, citing dissatisfaction with the diverse repertoire chosen by him, which featured far too much French, modern and obscure music at the expense of the conservative audience's preference for the Austro-German repertoire-and of course, there was no Tchaikovsky. A poll was actually held to discover who would be subscribers' first choice. It was topped, I kid you not, by Herbert von Karajan who was unable to accept the post largely on account of his still being dead, but it served to illustrate the thinking and preferences of the Berlin audiences!
At some point, the Abyss was looked into, and the question arose-"If not Rattle, who?" In these perilous financial times, a star conductor with a guaranteed recording contract would seem to an essential!
Meetings were held and Rattle took the " Paris vaut bien une messe" course and agreed to include far more of the Germanic Big Guns other than endless Mahler.
I have always felt that he is uncomfortable with much of this music, never really inside it, and especially with Bruckner my feeling was and is that "he doesn't get it."
However, let us start with the technical side. The intractable acoustic of the Philharmonie often causes problems for EMI, and this is one of their better efforts, if not matching the excellence of the recent Brahms/Schoenberg disc.
There is plenty of rich sound, quite detailed in general but times rather muddy, obscuring essential detail. It is not as well recorded as many earlier issues, including my favourite Giulini with the VPO on DG.
However, it is better recorded than both Wand and Barenboim with this orchestra-the Karajan was recorded in the Jesus Christus Kirche in Dahlem and has more luminous sound but now lacks a little bass depth.
It's not enough for a Bruckner 9 to include a Fourth Movement completion to be a cause for recommendation in itself.
There has to be a sound and gripping interpretation of the piece as a whole. One of the great joys of Bruckner is that his symphonies are so malleable, and with the Ninth I can enjoy the swift long line approach of Sawallisch at one extreme and Giulini's extreme etiolated tempi at the other, and on occasions I am brave enough to tackle Celibidache's Himalayan version at 77 minutes for the 3 movement version.!!
Rattle's approach is "bitty"-so many passages unfold majestically, but so many don't. The first movement works well enough, though I don't agree with Ralph Moore that Rattle captures the deep grandeur of the finale-to me it's just noisy.
As Ralph also remarks, the second movement is pretty bomb proof, from Sawallisch's swift staccato to Bernstein's massive hammer blows of Fate, it works in all guises and it does here too.
The Adagio is the big problem for me in this recording. I fully understand that as part of a four movement version it must be conceptually and structurally different from its position in a three movement version, and Wildner and Schaller both achieve this admirably in their accounts. Rattle's opening opens none of the vistas I long to experience, and I just do not like his shaping of the development and thematic material thereafter. It is not the swift-ish tempo that I find unacceptable, it is the lumpy structure of the whole movement.
Finally the completed Fourth Movement. I was wrongly advised that this was to be in the Carragan completion, but it is in fact the more common SBCM version-more or less, for it's not bad enough that there are versions of the symphonies, and different Editions of each version but that now we have different completions and different Editions of the completions!!
The committee has decided to excise 16 bars from their earlier version, in this their final word on the matter (for now!) and Rattle adopts this latest version.
I will confess that I am a complete convert to the Carragan completion, for while I agree that musicologically this is probably nearer to Bruckner's wishes, I simply enjoy the music in the Carragan more, and that's enough for me.
Rattle makes a convincing enough case for it, though there is some of the earlier mentioned muddiness in the recorded sound.
My feeling overall is that Rattle is not really inside this work, and that as often seems to be the case, he sets himself challenges to inspire interest in the listener-and probably himself. In my view, they detract rather add to the interpretation.
Would I be happy to buy this and recommend it as "straight" Bruckner 9? The answer is NO for there are exalted versions by Karajan, Wand (his CSO version in particular) Giulini, and Sinopoli with the Dresden Staatskapelle to name but a few, and I greatly admire those by Sawallisch, Bernstein (VPO) , Maazel and Celibidache.
For recorded sound enthusiasts the Skrowacewski/Minnesota on Reference has stunning sound.
If you have the astonishing bargain of the Wildner, you need not rush to replace it with this recording, for granted that though there is more orchestral weight to the BPO, Wildner's orchestra is not outclassed in other areas by the Berliners, and Wildner uses the preferable (to me) earlier SBCM completion, all expounded lucidly and efffectvely.
Will the 4 movement version now become "standard"? Not as a result of this performance and I can only reiterate that it has left me dissatisfied and unsatisfied. It's a decent enough attempt, and others will no doubt enjoy it more than I, but I can only write as I find. A disappointing 3 and a half stars.
Stewart Crowe.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 May 2012 11:57:45 BDT
A fine review and I was not aware of the attempted coup. I agree with you on this performance. I attended Sir Simon's concert of this in New York a few months ago and came away impressed with the playing but not with the inner life. I also have this recording and conclude that Sir Simon just doesn't convey the fear and the anguish that is so much a part of this work esp. in the 3rd. mvmt. With almost of 30 years of familiarity with the 3 mvmt. version, I'm not prepared to comment on the finale or how it fits in with the emotional profile of the preceding movements. With the greatness of the Adagio Bruckner set himself a formidable task with the finale. I'm not sure about it. Bruckner apparently prayed that he would live long enough to finish it-I wonder if had he lived would he have torn up these notes and started all over or would he have just given up? Anyhow thanks for the review it confirms my own feelings about this performance and the strength of the Wildner!

In reply to an earlier post on 25 May 2012 17:37:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 25 May 2012 17:38:20 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Dear Robert, Thank you for the kind words. I'm sorry that you agree with me-in the sense that we'd both rather be exchanging views extolling the greatness of this recording, instead of its disappointing elements!
I'm going to destroy whatever miniscule credibility I may have had by stating that I prefer the 3 movement inclompete version because it allows the conductor to convey the valedictory anguish in the 3rd movement untroubled by having to structure a finale 4 th movement in the whole sequence. I don't in truth think that any of the completions-and Editions of completions-adequately meet Bruckner's stated aims of a grand recapitualation of themes from his earlier symphonies, as in Strauss's Ein Heldenleben, though Carragan catches more of that spirit.
Such is the greatness of that Adagio, that anything which follows runs the risk of ending up as bathos.
Attempted coups seem to be "de rigeur" in Germany/Austria, and this one resulted in Rattle's contract being reviewed 2 years early. In the end, sanity prevailed and he got a 10 year renewal-but I'd be looking over my shoulder at Maestro Nelsons if I were Rattle-he's VERY popular in Berlin-and spans all the right repertoires!
Have you heard the Sawallisch B9?-a much unsung gem showing how affecting the work can be at a swifter tempo.Thanks once again and Very Best Regards, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2012 07:25:08 BDT
I think you will soon get used to the four movement version - well, you will probably have to - I believe performances of the torso only (both on record and in the concert hall) will quickly either become a thing of the past or extremely rare - and a good thing too. My reaction to the symphony ending with the 'valedictory' adagio is the opposite to yourself - being familiar with the structure of all ten Bruckner symphonies, this one has always felt incomplete to me.
Likewise, I believe Beethoven's Op 131 will increasingly be played with the Grosse Fugue - but that is another debate!

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2012 11:23:05 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jun 2012 11:23:48 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
Thank you for your interesting comments! I'm not a betting man, but if we recall the reluctance of so many of the "Big Guns" to engage with the Cooke Completion of Mahler 10, which involves less "3rd party intervention" that this completion, as Mahler did leave a full piano score as well as a completed movement, a partially completed one and a plethora of sketches, I'd bet that the competing versions of B9 will not be generally taken up, though there may be more frequent performances than hitherto, and it will be that rather than any similar feeling of the completeness of the 3 movement version that limits its acceptance. If one considers the debate about the various Editions of what are in fact 11 symphonies, and the conflicting views, this surely only reinforces that likelihood. It is unarguable that Bruckner wanted a 4 movement symphony, but to me the doubts about what we're hearing make it no more than an enjoyable "curio", and speaking personally, it detracts from my response to the earlier 3 movements. We'll see- you may be right, though I doubt it. Best Regards, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jun 2012 21:16:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Jun 2012 21:16:25 BDT
Ralph Moore says:
Stewart, it might be that the attraction of novelty and not wanting to appear retrograde (as with HIP) will tempt conductors and programmers into scheduling the (or rather "a") four-movement version, regardless of aesthetic considerations. Personally, I would welcome it, being more convinced than you by the reconstructions.

All the best,

Ralph

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Jun 2012 10:43:45 BDT
D. S. CROWE says:
That's a good point Ralph, and I've no doubt that more of the " Young Turks" will opt for a 4 movement completion-but which one? As ever with Bruckner, there is multiple choice-at least 2 SPCM versions, various incarnations of the Carragan and the extraordinary Marthe to name just the current crop. I like the Carragan best, in its latest version as recorded by Schaller simply because the music is more enjoyable than the latest SPCM to my ears.
I wish I could say that any of the completions add to my enjoyment of this great work, but while I find them fascinating and enjoyable enough, I haven't yet heard a performance that surpasses any of what I consider the great recordings , and certainly not this recording, This is a personal view, and I fully support those who take a different stance, and I'm pleased also that so many really like this recording more than I do-it can only be a good thing. You raise a very good point as ever Ralph. Best Regards, Stewart.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2012 20:33:49 BDT
Waldteufel says:
I think you mean op.130.
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D. S. CROWE
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Location: UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 310