I have no idea whether or not this is the best recorded Bruckner Ninth -- it's not a symphony one listens to lightly, and I don't have much experience with it. But on its own terms, this is tremendously impressive, and I'm inclined to agree with the reviewer who suggested that it's hard to imagine what Bruckner could have done for a final movement that would have rounded all this off credibly. Giulini was working at a very high level at this point in his career, doing some of that work in Los Angeles (see the great box set of the LAPO performances). This one is from Vienna, a record of a live concert with the VPO, and the sound is as a result not quite as refined as the LA sound, but it's pretty darned impressive. The symphony seems to me to be "about" the fear of disintegration, suggested throughout the long first movement in the way that all the thematic material seems edgy or over-assertive (VPO brass terrific throughout!) -- nothing settles, and much seems to be being tried out for stable development, but it never comes, and in the second movement we hear the disintegration -- the timpani and the lower instruments are just brutal (this is how music says noise and chaos), and Giulini just gives it to us straight: it's a kind of assault and leaves you wrung out. The last movement I see as trying to put the pieces back together, starting usually with lyrical string figures reminiscent of similar moments in the first movement, but more developed and pursued more persistently, even though at times the threat of disintegration looms again. Right up to near the end of this 30-minute long movement, it's not clear whether beauty or ugliness will win out, and Bruckner somehow conjures out of high strings and winds that had been irritatingly dissonant something approaching beauty in the final bars. The whole thing is quite amazing. As my comments suggest, I see the piece in narrative terms -- maybe the only way a musically illiterate person can see it -- and Giulini sets forth that narrative very lucidly to me. It's not a comfortable narrative, though, and might have the effect similar to, say, a powerful performance of "Lear." I need to hear other versions, but not anytime soon.