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on 1 January 2013
The Iceman emerged from the gloom of his IRCAM bunker in Paris to deliver a first-rate Bruckner Eighth in 2000 - he followed it up with an equally compelling performance in 2005 in St Florians itself with the Vienna Philharmonic Bruckner: Symphony No.8 (Boulez) [DVD].

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.
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on 4 August 2007
This is one of those rare recordings - in this instance live at St Florian - where the spirit of Bruckner seems to have risen from the dead and caught hold of Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic. The translucency of the woodwind and string textures does not short-change the glory of the brass at climaxes and the score unfolds with a logic and flow which is deeply engrossing. Perhaps the sense of architecture in the music-making reflects the unique setting. This is a musical experience in which you only have to submit and let this masterly symphony wash over you. Whether you respond to the dimension of the spiritual or not, you will find yourself in the presence of something quite special here. Don't miss it.
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on 25 July 2011
If you think the names Boulez and Bruckner couldn't possibly co-exist within the same sentence, then I dare you to buy this recording and see for yourself. Too often have Boulez's forays into more conservative musical repertoire been labelled by such remarks as "the Ice Man cometh" or some other nonsense. Whilst it is true that Boulez's approach to this symphony isn't quite as apocalyptic, frenzied, monumental or zen-like as more familiar Bruckner conductors such as Giulini, Wand, Furtwangler, Karajan or Celibidache, there is still room for a more intelligent, refined and considered approach to this repertoire. After all, who in their right mind would want to constrict Bruckner performances to being only monumental and apocalyptic? Surely music lovers out there are intelligent enough to appreciate a myriad of interpretations, even in the seemingly hallowed ground of Bruckner's symphonies.

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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on 7 April 2012
Bruckner's Eighth is a vast, symphonic ocean whose depths contain all manner of life, colour, shape and form. The superstitious nature of our seafaring forefathers coined the phrase "here be monsters" and there are many untold mysteries to be unlocked within the unfathomable depths of Anton Bruckner's colossus. However, all too often Boulez seems content to stand on the beach and skim stones across the surface of the water, without so much as getting his feet wet. Boulez's temperamental antipathy towards excessive emotionalism, his cool, clinical, analytical attention to detail gives a picture of high definition-like clarity, but lacking in rich vibrant colour. This is a black and white Eighth which lacks the contrast, subtle shading and sheer three-dimensionality of the best performances/recordings. Karajan's recordings of the Eighth - all of them - are positively teeming with life - panoramic displays of coral reef-like diversity and colour. In contrast, Boulez's recording reminds one of those dead, skeletal, colourless reefs blighted by pollution, that are all too common nowadays.

Boulez fails to make this Bruckner performance sing with a distinctive/authentic or indeed authoritative voice. There is much posturing, posing and preening - Bruckner's spirit has left the building - this structurally superficial, hollow, empty shell rests upon the foundations of a once vast, towering and mighty Gothic cathedral which now sees risen in its place some 21st Century, chrome, concrete and glass monstrosity/impostor undermining the cultural heritage/magnificence, traditions and values of a more noble age. Sterile, functional and devoid of spiritual exaltation... the "emperor without his clothes" or "Le marteau sans maitre"... well, this hammer/baton certainly needs a master who can hit Brucknerian nails on the head accurately and with some conviction. Boulez's hammer is plastic and it shatters on the granite-like structure of Bruckner's Eighth - he fails to convince, I'm afraid.

The Vienna Philharmonic is the real star of this performance - silken, sumptuous strings, noble toned horns whose antiphonal effects countering the rest of the brass are splendid and the Vienna brass in full cry is tremendously exciting. However, a magnificent orchestra, such as the VPO, demands the attention of a conductor who is spiritually and intellectually at one with the orchestra and whose implicit understanding of both the orchestra and the music they perform together results in justice being done to great works of art. Herbert von Karajan, the VPO and Anton Bruckner's Eighth Symphony - the perfect synthesis - incandescent, peerless and FULLY clothed, achieves a standard of performance which Boulez and the same forces fail to match, on any level!

Boulez's Bruckner Eight has, for this listener, sunk without trace. But I expect that Davy Jones' locker is now a more musical place - at least it's inaudible to this landlubber!
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on 1 November 2000
The days are gone when recordings of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony were a rarity, but despite that great recordings have remained elusive. Haitink was too dour and the normally relaiable Gunter Wand got into quite a mess on his RCA recording. Karajan's mid 70's version was probably the only reliable choice and his tended towards the rhetorical. Not so with this new Boulez recording. Every detail is carefully thought out but never do you feel Boulez gets in the way of the music. Unlike almost all other recordings, the double-dotted rhythm of the first movement is correct and played naturally. Boulez resists the temptation to overstate the conclusion of the short first movement, realising there is still much further to go, placing the emphasis instead on the third movement and the finale which is surely what Bruckner intended. The third movement with that yearning melody in D flat is here played with such poingency and feeling that you immediately sense this is where Bruckner intended the heart of his greatest symphony.
Boulez's judging of tempos of each movement is exceptional throughout, broadening out at the big climaxes and pushing the tempo in the build ups. Never is there a feeling the music has lost direction, the big problem with Guilini, also on DG. The Vienna Philharmonic know this work possibly better than any other orchestra and here they play it with an intensity that they lack for Guilini. Boulez is prepared to honour Bruckner's dynamics to the letter, avoiding the temptation of others, including Haitink, to 'edit' the big brass tuttis. In this performance they shine out in their full glory. The strings have that famous polish of the VPO and the quality of their tone will rank alongside the finest work they have committed to disk.
The venue for the recording was the Bruckner Church in Linz. Boulez voiced some reasonable concerns about the possible acoustic problems. He need not have worried. The DG engineers have worked wonders and every detail of this recording is clear and vivid. At high volume, the power of this recording is quite breath-taking, but it works at lower volumes as well. The quality of the recording is splendid. It must go down as one of the finest recordings to come from DG and that is no mean achievement in itself, considering the high standards of so much of DG's output. Here though they have truly excelled themselves. Boulez uses the original Hass edition of the score, complete in every detail. This is infinately preferable to Novak; those cuts still feel wrong no matter how many times you hear them. Far better to hear Bruckner as he intended his works to sound rather than through one of his numerous editors who cut large chunks out often without reference to Bruckner himself.
For those who may be wary of Boulez in German and Austrian music, here you need have no fear. This is certainly one of the finest recordings Boulez has ever done. The only wonder is it has taken him so long to put some Bruckner on disc.
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on 10 January 2017
There are some excellent Amazon reviews of this performance, especially by Dvimus, all confirming that Amazon reviews are in many ways preferable to so called 'professional' reviews. I agree with Dvimus that this is a 'definative' performance for the reasons outlined by him.( I assume Dvimus is a male?) Over the years I have admired other peformances from Harnoncourt, Blomstedt and Gielen, but I keep coming back to this Boulez performance. I have rarely heard the VPO sound so splendidly. This comes over throughout but with a particular intensity and eloquence in the great D flat major Adagio, where Boulez achieves not only a beautiful sound but also a lucidity and clarity of texture, especially in the strings and the way they are superbly balanced with the rest of the orchestra - and Boulez's phrasing is as eloquent and finessed as it sounds in a score like Debussy's Jeux! (another Boulez speciality). Like Boulez, in the DG inset booklet, Dvimus makes a strong case for the Haas edition. But recently it has been argued that Haas, especially in the 'Adagio', added some of his own compositional material. Also in the great C minor tutti ostinato sequence in
the finale, before the development proper, I now prefer the Novak tail-off with the de-crescendo timpani figure - sounding quite 'modern'. The little violin figure, in the Hass edition. seems out of place here. Haitink now plays the Nowak version after years of playing the Haas. A recent Haitink performance from Lucerne proved the qualities of the Nowak edition, even though Haitink with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, was no match the Boulez and the VPO. But overall such editorial issues (almost an occupational hazard in Bruckner) in no way detract from the excellence of the Boulez rendition of the Haas edition. Ideally it would serve the composer and listener well to have the Boulez for the Haas and, from my own perspective, the Harnoncourt for the Nowak with the Berlin Philharmonic; a fascinating comparison! The booklet in the Boulez CD includes a note by Lotte Klemperer refuting Boulez's claim that he heard Klemperer conduct Bruckner's 8th in London, claiming that it was in fact the 5th that Boulez heard. On this issue I would trust Boulez's memory over Klemperer's daughter. Lotte, like her father, was a formidable individual, but she could be obstinate in her opinions. I spoke to her on the phone several times before her death and she was absolutely unequivocal on details going back to the 40's relating to her father, to whom she was absolutely devoted. I can't imagine Boulez's memory being wrong here, especially as it was the 8th that he found the most impressive. Finally, anyone who has been impressed with this superb performance should have the DVD of Boulez conducting it in St, Florians Cathedral, where Bruckner is buried, just outside Linz. Like with Harnoncourt, Boulez's conducting technique is the most expressive and economical I have
seen/heard. Boulez, like Harnoncourt, prove here that the hands (and eyes) can be just as expressive/accurate than the baton, if not more...!
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VINE VOICEon 2 August 2007
Other reviewers have rightly praised the poise and line of this fine performance and everything you read on the Amazon site about the sound is true too. This performance builds to a very magnificent and satisfying Finale with the Vienna Philharmonic entirely "inside" the music and playing like angels.

This is the 1939 Haas Edition of the 1890 version of Bruckner's 8. Haas is still vilified by some as a Nazi sympathizer and it has to be said that the preface to his score tends to suggest that "foreign" interference during the period of revision after Hermann Levi rejected the first version (1887) diluted the work of a great German Master. But none of this matters to the music. Haas "restores" about 60 bars from 1887 (bridge passage music entirely)into the 1890 revision: 10 in the Adagio and 42 in the Finale. There is a passage of 8 bars that seems to have been written by Haas as a pastiche from jottings in Bruckner's manuscript that replaces several bars actually written by and "signed off" in the printer's edition of 1892 by Bruckner. All this has the effect of making the "corner turning" in the diffcult to conduct Finale more smooth and fluid. But this composite version, for those who are troubled by questions of authenticity, does not represent anything that Bruckner actually wrote - at least not in the order or sequence that Haas produced. Better or worse is not really the point. Haas sounds smoother and is very musical; Nowak's 1955 edition of the 1890 version goes back to what Bruckner prepared for publication. The 1892 first published version has expression markings and a couple of small changes that were probably put in by the Schalk brothers. Haas claimed to know what "the Master" really intended to do, basing his claim on the belief that poor old Bruckner was in such a mental state as to be browbeaten by his disciples. The account of how he treated the Schalks when the produced an unauthorised piano four-hand reduction of his 5 Symphony tends to give the lie to this notion. Haas sounds good and that is the only reason for listening to it. Nowak can sound equally good in the hands of a master conductor and I suggest that every Bruckner collection should contain both editions. The almost impossible to believe Bruckner bargain of the Century is to be found on the USA Seraphim import of Lorin Maazel's Berlin Philharmonic disc of 1989/90 (available both from Amazon - with at least a two week wait - or Amazon Marketplace: I got mine for under £5 post included in five days). Maazel's superlative conducting makes Nowak entirely convincing.

Boulez, having chosen the Haas path, produces what is probably the best value disc of that edition and is certainly one of the best recorded and interpreted. This, together with the minimal outlay on the Maazel disc mentioned above is all that you really NEED for Bruckner 8. Of course, the compelling wonder of this great symphony is such that, one it has grabbed you, it is very difficult to stop buying discs to hear other interpretations. Well, there are lots worse ways to spend your time and money...

[NB. Boulez's recording venue was the Stiftkirche (Abbey Church) of St Florian Abbey, just outside Linz, where Bruckner was educated at school and which contains the famous Bruckner Organ. His body, buried in exact compliance with his instructions, is situated in the crypt immediately below this organ. It seems altogether right that such a fine performance took place in a spot where Bruckner was at his happiest in life.]
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on 29 September 2008
I confess that I bought this Boulez performance of what many regard as Bruckner's greatest symphonic work largely out of curiosity. I've heard the work performed live on several occasions, and over a long span of time I've heard many of the readings committed to disc. After listening to Boulez, my first preferences remain the VPO/Karajan performance on DG and a (deleted) live recording from Lubeck Cathedral by Gunter Wand. Karajan's is probably the definitive performance on CD - and crucially he uses the Haas Edition of this work (as do Wand and Boulez). The Wand performance is however uniquely satisfying, contains perhaps a little more humanity than the Karajan, and has an especially beneficial cathedral acoustic and appropriate reverberation for Bruckner's brass chorales.

I was surprised, though, by how convincing the Boulez recording is. He has a reputation for being too cold and clinical, but I can't say that this rang true in the Bruckner 8th on this CD. If anything, although Boulez is particularly good at mapping out the symphonic arguments and providing a clear picture of the work's structure, there are times when at climactic points Boulez almost seems impulsive!

I found the recording very good indeed and it offers an unusual amount of inner orchestral detail without detracting from a good, warm overall "glow" to the orchestral sound. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is glorious - there is some brass playing in the long slow movement that is quite simply out of this world.
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This recording is from a live memorial concert given on the hundredth anniversary of the composer's death in the abbey church at St Florian, where Bruckner spent much of his formative years and whence he often returned later in life for friendship and solace. His tomb is in the crypt. I have visited the monastery and can vouch for both its Baroque splendour and its spiritual atmosphere, both of which are inherent in the symphonic music of this often-misunderstood genius.

The sleevenotes include details of the other CDs in the Deutsche Grammophon Boulez catalogue, featuring works by the likes of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Bartok, Debussy, and Messiaen: none of these other composers can be said to be brothers of Bruckner's style of composition. So why is Boulez - of all people - conducting Bruckner? Well, the notes seem to argue his cause, but does the production itself demonstrate his empathy with the music?

Those opening nine notes over the string tremolo are a joy to hear, but this is the Vienna Philharmonic, so what else would one expect? There is a sheen on the tremolos that only they seem able to produce. The sound as a whole is glorious. BUT, somehow I felt that this live performance was a little too clinical for my tastes, too objective. For example, the ferocity in the scherzo is certainly present, but it sounds a little disingenuous, as if we are not with Bruckner but "at" him. The metaphor I would use hear is cinematic: instead of feeling I was in the movie, that I was there with the actors watching the story unfold; instead I was behind the cameras and lights, watching the movie being made. This scientific objectivity to me is alien to both Bruckner the man and to his compositions. So, although I give this CD four stars, I cannot say that I love it. The sound is good, but Boulez - for me - does not have the breath of Bruckner's universe. Celibidache remains the five star interpretation in my collection.

I should point out that it is the Haas (original) edition that is played here. At seventy-six minutes in length, it is all on one disc but never feels hurried. In addition, there is a DVD available of the concert with some interesting discussions with Boulez.
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on 25 May 2015
good recording - good value
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