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From Russia with Love,
This review is from: Bruckner;Symphony No.8 (Audio CD)
Karajan had a lifelong affair with the Bruckner Eighth. Here is the first act of consummation. Indeed, when was he not the master of this symphony down to its last quaver? Like Athena, did he spring fully formed from Zeus?
The Scherzo and Adagio here were recorded in mono in June 1944, whereas the Finale, resplendent in stereo, dates from September '44 when Germany was befalling Gotterdammerung. And who would have thought that a headless horror - the first movement is missing - would be such a stupendous success? One hardly notices its absence.
The Scherzo is marginally quicker than the '88 performance. And while it is mono, it sounds like one of those Walter Legge specials. It is very listenable - very. Such is its clockwork precision (accompanied by poetry), one could liken this performance to the Harmony of the Spheres. It suffers nothing in comparison with the later recordings. Its sheer vitality reconciles one to the loss of the first movement.
The Adagio is self-assured in the extreme. Karajan takes us on a journey which culminates in a Vision of the One - or of some higher cosmic unity if you do not ascribe to Bruckner's eschatology.
The greatest marvel here is the last movement (27'34 compared with the 23'59 in 1988). It is long-breathed, which always signifies mastery in Bruckner. It is astounding that at this dark hour, such a rendition could be so celestially peaceful; perhaps one and all - and not least the conductor - were mindful of Ajax's last words: "Light, Light, if only to die in." Again, I cannot say that it was surpassed by the later versions: it exhibits a tranquillity that is remarkable.
If the United States Air Force or the RAF had nailed Herbie's rump and this one movement was his sole legacy to the world, one would be justified in saying "now, there WAS a conductor."
The sound itself would pass for muster as a mid-1970s analogue recording - but it is better than that: it has a depth which is staggering.
I do not know who in the hell this orchestra is but they play out of their skins. Perhaps each one of them was anxious to remain in the orchestra . . . . . They play as to the Festung born.
The coda to the last movement - a Parousia in itself - is better than any of the other Karajans, or Furtwangler in '44 or '54, or Guilini or Wand or Bohm or Tennstedt or Boulez. I have them all. None of them are in the same league: that's how damned good it is.
Forgive my enthusiasm. If you hear this performance yourself, you will commit apostasy, both to your current allegiances in this work and to your spouse or partner.
Signs and wonders await you.