Sir Simon Rattle's live recording of Bruckner's Fourth Symphony in 2006 received a mixed reception. I have myself had my reservations, ranging from mild to serious, regarding the success of some of his forays into Brahms, Strauss and Mahler, but this latest release seems to me to be the finest thing he has done with the Berlin Philharmonic to date.
Some have expressed the usual concerns about a slight muddiness in the sound EMI has given him here, although I suspect that has more to do with the acoustics inherent in the construction of the Philharmonie hall itself and the difficulty engineers have in capturing the clarity of a live performance; certainly any deficiency is not serious enough to detract from the pleasure I derive from listening to this thrilling performance.
Rattle has in the past appeared to lack a convincing overview and defaulted into a certain fussy delicacy in his interpretation of composers like Brahms, Strauss and Bruckner who respond to the big bow-wow treatment. No such problem here; he maintains the kind of sumptuousness of sound for which Karajan made the BPO (in)famous whilst ensuring that he eschews the "soupiness" which could afflict recordings from the Karajan era.
There is a massive solidity and a rich sonority about the playing here. I heard one little blip in the horns at 2:41 into the first movement but otherwise the orchestra's virtuosity throughout is breath-taking. I was also concerned that Rattle would be too clinical when I heard him first scud rather too blithely over the descending string figure five minutes in to which Giulini applies a little rubato and makes so poignant but my list of nit-picking was never extended beyond that point as I became utterly absorbed by Rattle's glorious commitment: the climax to this opening movement is both grand and urgent, showcasing the BPO in full flight.
The Scherzo is, in my experience, pretty difficult to foul up even under a merely moderately gifted conductor and orchestra so here it goes just as it should; the lift and precision of the pizzicato passages are a joy.
In the Adagio, Rattle is up against stiff competition from the likes of Giulini in his mesmerising accounts with both the VPO and in Stuttgart but he has the measure of the movement, providing us with stunning vistas as the D major trumpet theme ascends to the summit, aureate glow in the strings for the Dresden Amen and a crushing dissonant climax.
Of course, for many the main interest here will be the stamp of legitimacy this recording, and the performances from which it was derived, confer upon the latest and last version of the Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca completion of the fourth movement. There have of course been several recordings of this but none this recent asserting that this is the "Conclusive Revised Edition". The most apt comparison to be made is with the superb Naxos recording by Johannes Wildner with the New Philharmonic Orchestra of Westphalia but that was made in 1998 and used the 1996 revision, in which you may hear the inclusion of a passage now deleted. Before the Berlin concerts, Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs explained that he and his collaborators agreed to remove sixteen bars containing a pianissimo and a crescendo in the interests of not interrupting the momentum from the beginning of the chorale recapitulation up to the end of the coda. This is a change I regret as I find the original idea very effective; otherwise the textures and colours of these final thoughts could hardly sound more convincingly Brucknerian. While I find the Carragan ending used by Gerd Schaller in his excellent set of three symphonies from the Ebrach Festival on the Profil label to be highly entertaining, I suspect that we are hearing from Rattle the closest we shall ever get to Bruckner's own thoughts. Rattle welds the three disparate themes drawn from motivic elements from the preceding movements into a cohesive and captivating whole. He emphasises the violence of the jagged first theme before transmuting it into a Dead March, then the horns embrace the grand, broad Wagnerian melody over pulsating strings - magical.
on 24 June 2012
While driving from work recently, I happened to catch some mighty impressive music on the wireless. Although I didn't know what it was, I soon suspected it to be Bruckner. A panel of classical musicians discussed what turned out to be the 4th movement of the unfinished ninth and to a man they were lyrical about it, extolling the virtues of both the musicianship and the composition in no uncertain terms. Although I already have a couple of Bruckner ninths (Bruno Walter & Skrowachewski among them), I felt the Rattle/BPO would make a welcome addition to my discography. After having listened to it twice, I read some of the reviews on Amazon. Quite honestly I found some of them no more than bouts of apparently fashionable Rattle-bashing and nitpicking over the amount of terror the interpretation managed or failed to instill in the listener and the difficulty EMI were having with the recording venue. All I can say is that I found it a very well played, emotionally high charged performance in very fine sound; please do not allow yourself to be put off by the Rattle-bashers and hair splitters and judge the performance by its own merits, which are plentiful.
on 6 November 2014
I have become used to the idea of Bruckner's ninth tailing off into infinite quiet. It was only a very short while ago that I heard about the recovery and reconstruction of its finale. Having read up on it, It seemed that the efforts to rebuild it had recently reached a point of resolution: that Simon rattle and the BPO had recorded a version clinched it for me. An orchestra with a peerless reputation and heritage in Bruckner with the great Rattle.
The firt three, familiar movements are as good as one would expect - I have not noticed any surprises. Of course the main interest is in the final movement, and it is just totally Brucknerian. Burnished steel slabs of sound, interspersed with delicate wisps of detail. It is a magnificent peroration to his work. Bruckner no longer goes out with a whimper: now he dances his way out triumphantly.
A wonderful reconstruction. Hearty congratulations to the quartet of scholars who realised this..
on 28 October 2013
As an out-an-out Bruckner nut, I had to get Rattles Ninth with the completed finale. And was not wholly disappointed.
I'm usually a fan of the 3-movement torso of the work which is by far the most popular version. Because I think that no-one can successfully capture the true spirit and sound world of Bruckner. But I have to say the brilliant musicologists/musicians have done a fair job in completing this mighty work.
Hand on heart I would say that Bruckner would have not ended this finale so succinctly as performed here but it must be close.
What they have done is melded Bruckners own score fragments with their own "idea" of what Bruckner may have written down.
I'm not wholly convinced but it's close!!
Please don't buy this recording because it is a great performance of Bruckner 9 - It's not. There are sound quality issues and Rattles approach to the Adagio 3rd movement seems erratic. We are not talking Gunther Wand, Jochum or even Karajan here. Actually I think the finale is the best played of the 4 movements.
on 10 February 2016
The opening passages of this recording of Bruckner's 9th. Symphony with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) provides a firm idea of what will be the approach to the music, and especially to give a foretaste of what is to come with the realised fourth movement. Rattle has commented that Bruckner wrote this symphony at a time when he was "experiencing terror, fear and passion in his life". So, the music is suitably, sober, even a little sombre, as it moves into what would be Bruckner's, and perhaps the 19th. century's, last statement on the symphonic form.
What we have in this recording, however, is the pre-eminent German orchestra and one of the foremost British conductors of his generation. The recording combines the best features of orchestra and conductor, as well as a most acceptable recording quality - a spacious recording that enables the various parts of the orchestra to register their contribution. As he has shown with his presentation of the Mahler's symphonies, Rattle is very much inside the heavyweight music of the Northern European tradition. His dramatic style fits the demands of both the music and the composer. He enjoys directing the long, sonorous passages, the quicker, more quirky musical interludes, the impressive and arresting climaxes, the bold musical statements and melodious connecting pieces that a Bruckner symphony includes. Combine all with an orchestra that plays without a musical note out of place and you have a recording that can be returned to over and over again.
This is especially so with the addition of the Samale/Phillips/Cohrs/Mazzuca performing version of the score of the fourth and final movement of Bruckner's 9th. It is reported that Bruckner had already outlined at least 90% of the score, so the realisation of the fourth movement has a genuine air of authenticity. Guided by Rattle, the BPO certainly play the final movement as if it had been in place from the beginning of the symphony's existence. The performing version should, therefore, present few, if any, problems for the aficionados of this composer.
The highly recommendable, mellow yet persuasive, version of Bruckner's 9th. Symphony, with Bruno Walter and the Columbia SO, from 1959, provides this now-recognised unfinished version of the symphony with a noble, if not resigned, conclusion, after which, in the words of the Penguin Guide, "anything would have been an anti-climax". Rattle and the BPO require this viewpoint not only to be challenged but overturned. In so doing, it changes the whole perspective on the role and explanation of this symphony in Bruckner's output.
The cover note of this CD states that Bruckner left a "stark and magnificent torso", as well as leaving "fragments and sketches for a magnificent finale that would cap his life's work." Rattle himself has said that this realisation of the fourth and final movement of Bruckner's 9th. Symphony "crowns his musical last will and testament with an intense and visionary splendour." The nobility of the third movement remains, but its resignation is removed and replaced with a fuller affirmation of his belief in life.
The final movement of the 9th. Symphony may not be, as yet, as memorable in terms of emotional content as the final movements of, for example, the 3rd. or 8th. symphonies. Nevertheless, this performing version has all the ingredients for a musical feast to satisfy most Brucknerian tastes.With this recording comes the recognisable Gothic architecture of the Bruckner symphony. However, the symphonic output of this composer concludes with the structure being filled with warmth and humanity.
The completed four movement version of the 9th. Symphony is a must for any Bruckner collection.
Although it goes without saying that the Berliner sound magnificent in this wonderful recording; there is only one topic of discussion here : the completion of the Finale.
Having listened to it a few times, there is a feeling of disappointment, as if there ought to be more. But is that intrinsic to the music or the fact that we have been waiting so long, that expectation has been heightened beyond reason? Bruckner was reaching the end of his life and had no easy answers for us.
My mind has been changed by reading Philip Clark's interview with Simon Rattle in the September 2012 edition of Gramophone magazine. They talk about how the addition of the finale changes the approach to the previous three movements.
Rattle says : "When you investigate the finale, though , it becomes obvious, as in the Eighth , that all the themes must be played together. Then it's only one more step to realise, wow, if all the themes have to be played together, they all have to be in the same tempo, or in a related tempo, which knocks back on to the first three movements in an alarming way."
Rattle then goes on to relate something he heard from Gunter Wand, the great Brucknerian conductor: "Please understand - Bruckner's harmony is Romantic, but the rhythm and form are Classical."
So the challenge now, is to find a basic pulse which fits everything and not like some conductors, to pull it apart or use 'rubato'. The addition of an extra movement changes the way a conductor thinks about the whole symphony, not just the finale and as well as finishing differently, the whole coheres in a way that previous versions have not.
Rattle is not new to this kind of thing of course, as he was very much involved in championing the completion of Mahler's Tenth Symphony. But he explains how there is much more of this completed - of 650 bars, there are only 50 that Bruckner didn't write out in full and his system of composition meant that he filled his manuscript paper with phrase lengths - so the architecture of the symphony's final movement is never in doubt.
Given all the above I think we have to live with this new version of the Ninth symphony and try to make sense of it - give it more time. After all we have had the rest of it for many decades now - it makes sense to give this version a few more years. This will be seen as a historic recording and in that sense it is surely an essential purchase from probably the best combination of orchestra and conductor, working anywhere today.
on 28 May 2012
I have been listening to recordings of this symphony for more than fifty years, and to completed versions since the 1980s, but no previous account has thrilled me as much as this one. The orchestra is superb, and Rattle shapes the movements beautifully, building up relentlessly to the huge dissonant climaxes. The finale sounds as near to echt-Bruckner as one could wish, though nothing can be definitive as long as there is the possibility that some or all of the stolen pages may turn up. An added bonus is that it is all on one CD - a feat in itself! I have read the ten previous reviews, and it seems to me that there is a lot of nit-picking in the 3 and 4 star ones.
on 6 January 2014
It all makes sense! Of course this symphony is not about death, the finale is so life affirming. The last movement indeed contains elements that are of the same pathos as Te Deum and I guess that's why Bruckner suggested using it as the finale. It sounds so very much authentic. Bruckner dedicated it to "the beloved God" and what a masterpiece he has given us. Rattle's interpretation of the whole work, not just the finale, is also very inspiring. I have been listening to the first three movements for over twenty years and I think Rattle is as good as Walter, Giulini, Karajan, Celibidache, and Jochum. If you like Bruckner, you must have this. Five stars!
on 25 July 2012
I looked forward to hearing these lastest/last thoughts on the Samale-Phillips-Cohrs-Mazzuca version of the final movement, at last performed by a top conductor/orchestra combo. In short, this recording is fine, but from a purely visceral point of view, the earlier SPCM revisions, as performed by Wildner and Layer are superior. Why? The ending!
Other reviewers have found the very ending of this latest revision unsatisfactory and I am in complete agreement. Yes the momentum *is* sustained, but it sounds as though it is tacked on in an attempt to finish the movement as soon as possible in case anyone notices it wasn't composed by Bruckner. It almost feels as though the ending was badly spliced in from another recording session. Why did SPCM change their inspirational ending with a pause and a final massive crescendo? This had far greater impact and in fact added to the momentum. The scholars have certainly 'buggered [it] up' as - Bernard Michael O'Hanlon says in his review here on Amazon. The ealier versions/revisions with the pause and the crescendo (e.g. Wildner on Naxos and more recently Friedmann Layer and the National Theatre Orchestra of Mannheim) are overwhelming and far, far, superior in my opinion.
Like Bruckner in his earlier symphonies, it seems the scholars lack confidence in their creation - constantly revising, but not necessarily improving. They have sacrificed heart for head - so their final revision is not their most spiritual.
on 29 December 2013
I don't always respond to Rattle's rummaging round the hedgerows, but this, from the very opening, sounds 'right'. It may not have all the angst of Jochum or Harnoncourt but it is, I think, a great performance and it does come enhanced with a convincing performance of the fairly convincing realisation of the last movement. One to have.