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Rattle shocks us with his new Bruckner 9th--who knew he could produce such deep spirituality?,
This review is from: Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 (Audio CD)
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.