Bruckner: Symphony No.8 Live
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Bruckner: Symphony No.8
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BOULEZ PIERRE / WIENER P. O.
Bruckner's mighty Eighth Symphony is not a work usually associated with Pierre Boulez, yet in this wonderfully mastered live recording (from the cathedral in which Bruckner is buried) his incisive approach provides a masterful account. The performance is well paced and the faster speeds he chooses (unusually fitting the work onto a single disc) give momentum to the large four-movement structure. Alongside Boulez's hallmark clarity of texture, this makes for a less exhausting experience than performances by the previous generation of conductors, though many will still prefer the heightened gravitas of Wand and Karajan. The slow movement contains some of Bruckner's most perfect music and the unprecedented accuracy and buoyancy Boulez brings to the underlying rhythmic pulse of the opening is matched at other times by uncharacteristically indulgent rubato, with Boulez revelling in what he describes as "wonderful, labyrinthine harmonic language". The Vienna Philharmonic, whose sound is unrivalled in this music, responds magnificently to Boulez's demands and there is an obvious mutual respect between conductor and orchestra in this meeting of two very different traditions. This disc comes most highly recommended both as a good introduction to this symphonic masterpiece, or as a refreshing tonic for seasoned Brucknerians. --Leigh Aspin
Top customer reviews
There is much to like about Boulez as a Brucknerian: he is patient and unfussy; his grip on the architecture is masterly; he illicits a lustrous response from the Vienna Philharmonic.
This performance is dogged by a systemic failure: one climax sounds like another. This is especially true of the first movement where the epic fortissimo before the Totenuhr sounds no different than its predecessors - it's like Pierre cannot quite shift from fourth gear into fifth. The same comment applies to the last movement: there is a monochromatism to the climaxes.
The mere mention of the word 'metaphysics' causes Boulez to reach for his well-thumbed copy of the Darmstadt Manifesto. It is somewhat unfair to decry this performances as being less spiritual than the Furtwangler or Karajan alternatives; it works well enough on its own terms.
You will not be shortchanged if you acquire this disc even if, on my part at least, there is no great hunger to hear Boulez in other works by Bruckner.
All I would say is that if you're only used to hearing Bruckner 'a la Karajan', Giulini or Wand, then give this one a go. You might be surprised and actually like the way that Boulez intreprets this piece, especially as it doesn't require the listener to set their internal metabolism at half speed in order to appreciate the grandeur of the writing (I wonder which conductor I'm thinking of here......!). Indeed, Boulez is very much at the opposite end to Celibidache, and if you're familiar with the latter's unique recording of Bruckner 8 with the Munich Philharmonic, then the Boulez recording will complement it perfectly.
In general the 1st, 2nd and 4th movements are taken at more flowing tempi than usual, with the result that the Scherzo doesn't sound like some kind of elephant trying to walk around in a pair of ballerina's shoes. In fact I would say that the faster tempo adopted in the 2nd movement works very well indeed - Furtwangler approached the Scherzo in a similiar fleet-footed manner (although with a rather different aim of course!). Needless to say that the Vienna Philharmonic play wonderfully throughout the symphony and the strings in the Adagio are just as heavenly and silky smooth as in Wand's recording of Bruckner 8 with the Berlin Philharmonic. Boulez's sifting of the texture means that in the Finale, when all the themes are brought together in a magnificent tapestry, you can actually hear all the lines very clearly (but it doesn't lose any sense of power or grandeur just because it is more 'literalist'). Surprisingly the Adagio is taken at quite a conventional pace - almost the same as Karajan's Berlin recording would you believe - therefore belying the myth that Boulez is always a cold and calculating conductor who speeds through adagio movements in a business-like manner. Not so here.
If you find that you like this recording, I would direct you to another, much earlier, recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Furtwangler in 1944. At the moment this famous account is rather hard to find, but just through sheer accident I came across what I believe to be the finest re-mastering of it to date, and what's more you can download it for £3.99 instead of paying £15 or £20 for a used copy of the Music & Arts release. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Furtw%C3%A4ngler-Dirigiert-Bruckner-Aufnahme-17-10-1944/dp/B000028BAI/ref=sr_1_13?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1311599915&sr=1-13
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