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A powerful performance of an 'experimental' Bruckner's 8th,
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This review is from: Bruckner: Symphony No.8 [Gerd Schaller , Philharmonie Festiva] [Profil: PH13027] (Audio CD)
IT IS IMPORTANT to understand exactly what is being performed here. The so-called `Intermediate Adagio' exists in a copy-score only, and it is conjectured that this is a version by Bruckner possibly dating from around 1888. Although there is nothing in Bruckner's hand on the score, there are sketches elsewhere that are preparatory to this version. It is an interesting score and well worth hearing in performance, constituting an intermediate stage between the Adagios of 1887 and 1890. Amongst an intriguing collection of smaller changes there is one major difference: the build up to the climax, which is thoroughly reworked and includes a wonderful passage for four horns alone, unlike anything to be heard in any other version. The climax itself is already similar to 1890, the six cymbal clashes of 1887 having been replaced by a mere two. This Adagio has been recorded before by Akira Naito and the Tokyo New City Orchestra, but this performance in Ebrach Abbey is beautifully shaped, and the rich and full sound of the orchestra - primarily members of the leading orchestral ensembles of Munich - has been well caught by the recording technicians.
But the other three movements are something else. If the `Intermediate Adagio' is to be performed, the question arises into which of the two versions of the symphony it should be inserted. Prof. William Carragan's venture here is to answer, `Neither,' and create an edition of the score that gives an indication of what Bruckner was doing with the other movements over roughly the same period that the `Intermediate Adagio' came into being. As Paul Hawkshaw's paper on the sources of the Eighth records, with this symphony there is an immense, unprecidented amount of preparatory and discarded material. Prof. Carragan has taken up pencil notations in manuscripts for the first two movements, and taken some material from a composite score of the Finale in which the 1887 version had been revised into the 1890 version, but which shows some evidence of the progress of that revision. This edition of the symphony is therefore not anything that Bruckner himself ever conceived as a version or a completed whole, nor even is it an edition necessarily incorporating a consistent level of revision throughout. As Prof. Carragan writes in the CD insert notes, `it will always have to be regarded as experimental, not on the same editorial level as the ... versions of 1887 and 1890... But in it we have a fascinating view of the work-in-progress of Bruckner the eternal reviser.'
The performance and recording are excellent. The Abbey acoustics can be difficult for those in the audience, but the recorded sound is very fine, with a nicely judged mix of clarity of detail and appropriate reverberation. The woodwind solos, often plaintive responses to bold statements in the strings and brass, sound with a haunting clarity, and are expressively played, the oboe particularly distinctive throughout. In the first movement the contrapuntal interplay between duplet and triplet rhythms in the strings in the Gesangsperiode registers well. In this edition of Prof. Carragan's there is a striking passage in the development, at about 10:50, where the low strings repeat again and again the falling three note motive from the end of the main theme, with solemn woodwinds intoning above - an addition that showed Bruckner lengthening the development rather than moving towards the concision that became the great strength of the 1890 version. And indeed, the performance does lose some degree of tautness over the development, but the coda - still the loud blazing C major of the 1887 version - is as convincing as I have ever heard it. Although going to the major, it nevertheless sounds like a frightening amplification of the `annunciation of death' by horns and trumpets that closes the first wave of the coda.
There are little differences to delight and intrigue throughout - note the little bassoon figure leading to the horn's repeated note with its appoggiatura at 1:55 and 2:07 into the Scherzo. There are other variants in the Trio, slightly melancholy and prefiguring motives from the Adagio, which give a different slant to the mood of the piece. The finale receives a powerful performance, the "breit" and "sehr markig" markings for the phrases of the second theme strongly observed, the sound of the brass, both in the Wagner tuba chorales and the mighty tuttis, very impressive.
The only danger with this recording is that those confused by the versions of Bruckner symphonies we already have, and those wishing in vain to have `the Bruckner problem' simplified, might consider the situation to be exacerbated beyond tolerance by the mere existence of a recording of this edition. On the other hand, those of us interested to hear what ideas Bruckner might at some stage have had for this symphony, even if he was to discard them later, would be sorry not to have had a chance to hear this otherwise unavailable music.
And there is a very interesting fill-up. Bruckner sought lessons in composition and orchestration from the Linz conductor, Otto Kitzler. The "Trauermusik - To the memory of Anton Bruckner" was written in 1905, most probably by Kitzler snr (Bruckner's teacher), though at times it was credited to his son, also Otto. Only the piano duet version survived, and some programme note and review descriptions of the orchestration. From these Gerd Schaller has orchestrated the work, and it comes across as a strong funeral march, a heartfelt tribute to the composer in whose memory it was written.