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on 26 February 2015
Apparently, Simon Rattle first encountered Bruckner's Seventh Symphony as a 15-year-old percussionist in the National Youth Orchestra, under the baton of Rudolf Schwarz, so it is a piece that has been with him for a very long time. He once said that conducting Bruckner was like building a cathedral, and certainly, from this rendition of the Seventh, one can see that he has all the skills required to tackle the vast architecture of Bruckner's symphonies and also to bring out the intense beauty and spirituality. This is a version of this music that is a privilege to listen to; beautiful, powerful, tragic, triumphant. The Adagio, one of the most moving and poignant pieces ever to come from Bruckner's pen, written when he realised that his hero, Wagner, had not long to live, is perfectly handled here and is absolutely sublime, as is the haunting first theme of the opening movement.Rattle understands Bruckner, creating order out of chaos, bringing a sure hand to the composer's structural excesses, examining every harmony and counterpoint and bringing translucency to the rich layers and textures. This CD is a joy!!! Arguably, the Seventh is one of Bruckner's finest achievements, and also one of Rattle's, and when this is combined with the exemplary acoustics in the Birmingham Symphony Hall, the result is outstanding. It is a pity that Bruckner is not heard more often in the concert hall as his music is quite spectacular and he was the inspiration for many composers, not the least Elgar and Sibelius. The latter cited Bruckner as his favourite composer and the slow movement of Bruckner's Sixth moved him to tears. So, if you are not yet acquainted with Bruckner, this CD would be a good place to start, and if you love Bruckner already, this version of the Seventh is highly recommended. 5 big stars to Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
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on 18 October 2007
... who appreciates this performance as highly as I do? Well, when considering such wonderful performers/artists, in the end, it all comes down to taste, but I really love this performance. (Does that tell anything about how good or bad my tastes are? ;-)
Anyhow, this recording has had its fair share of bad reviews in press, being called 'tedious' and 'lacking in human dimension' because of being too much reduced to 'architectural denominators', or imbibed with too much 'Shatneresque(?) huffing and puffing'.
Be those observations as they may, I would like to say what I like about this performance. Generally, I am not a great fan of Sir Simon Rattle, but there are a few, IMHO, wonderful exceptions. But with these exceptions, there is a lot of devided opinion as well, as expected with this conductor, who never seems to fails to 'devide the field', as it were. I do for example love Sir Simon Rattle's recording of Mahler 10 with the Berliner Philharmoniker (EMI). (Although that one is generally accepted as 'classic', I would think.) I also like his recording (more of a risk, saying this), with the same orchestra, of Mahler's 9th - even if this performance, generally not well received by press and public alike, is characterized by a lot of idiosynchrasies (While being maybe a stand-alone in the field, it does have a uniquely convincing power of its own, I believe).
The orchestral playing is this Bruckner is to my taste (and here I think anyone could agree) mellifluous and glowingly rich in sound, from the softest pianissimos to the greatest fortissimos (probably much helped by the accoustics of the venue, the fabled Symphony Hall Birmingham). Indeed, as another (professional) reviewer has mentioned, there is a wonderful sense of architecture here, with flowing transitions between tempos. Many reviewers seem to miss a 'human side' with this performance. The same as with, for example, Sir Simon Rattle's Mahler 8, which indeed I don't like? (Characterized as it is by lightness of touch and emphasis on flow and 'architecture', missing out on deeper feeling. Well, at least to my taste and ideas) But I think that 'lack' is compensated by glorious sound and nobility of playing. Also, I think that the well-balanced strings (high and low), brass and woodwind make for a wonderful, richly blended sonorous sound: nowhere is the sound 'top heavy' in one department or another. But at the same time Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra find a lyrical touch that is to me very endearing, very fresh.
In one sentence, there is rich sonority combined with lyrical touch and fine orchestral balance. I, for one, love it. That, of course, tells everything about my own tastes, and nothing about what other people should think about this recording. But please try and give it a taste, maybe you would like it as well. I could only in good conscience recommend it wholeheartedly. (Actually, five stars for this performance, I guess.)
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For many, Bruckner's seventh symphony is the only one they hear, which is a shame for it is by no means his best. Whilst the first movement's opening theme is rightly hailed as a mark of majestic beauty, it is the adagio that moves my soul. But the finale to me is always an anti-climax to what has gone before. Stephen Johnson, in the notes to Simon Rattle's interpretation, remarks how Bruckner "must have realised that, after the first three movements, an ambitious, all-embracing finale simply wasn't appropriate." But if this was so, what of the eighth symphony? To me, the finale of the seventh is a mere superstructure awaiting its heart.

Well, is Rattle a natural Brucknerian? On the evidence of this interpretation with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, he is - but more by default than design. (He certainly now has more chance to hone his Brucknerian appreciation with the Berlin Philharmonic.) This is a standard performance but with a welcome emphasis on ensuring that the woodwind are heard. The sound is very good.

It is a fitting introduction for a listener that is new to Bruckner, but I would not go out of my way to purchase a set of all the Bruckner symphonies conducted by Rattle - but it is notable and says much that this is not a project that Sir Simon has yet undertaken.
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