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Reappraising Bruckner's last will and testament
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.