04_bruckner_10symphoniesBruckner - 10 Symphonies
Bayerischen RSO; Lorin Maazel
BR Klassik 900703

Anton Bruckner is an unfortunate example of what can happen if an artist has not enough confidence and listens to too many interfering people. Poor fellow. He was not only castigated by the critics (e.g. Hanslick) in his lifetime, influencing him to make changes in his scores, but even after his death his fame was belittled by English critics who ridiculed his work as “symphonic boa constrictors” or “symphonies that turn back on themselves.” Even in the 1960s this prevented him reaching North America although he was already famous in Europe thanks to the German-Austrian school of conductors. It all turned around in the 70s and at present his fame is at its highest. There are several symphony cycles available: Karajan, Jochum, Barenboim, Wand, Chailly, Skrowaczewski and more and now this fine set from the Bayerischen Rundfunkorchester, led by its music director at the time, Maestro Lorin Maazel. It was recorded in 1999 in one continuous set of live sessions; each symphony occupies one disc except the magisterial 8th which takes up two. As a curiosity, the so called Symphony 0 (Die Nullte) is added as an 11th disc. This piece was undeservedly withdrawn, but it’s by no means poor, with much of Bruckner’s latent talents emerging as the audience’s cheers attest.

As you perhaps remember from my earlier reviews, Bruckner’s symphonies progress step by step, each is better, deeper, more original than the previous. Then there are two quantum leaps of divine inspiration: between the 4th and the 5th and the 8th and the 9th. By the time we reach the 9th, we have reached Olympus.

Tempi are extremely important in music and nowhere more important than for Bruckner, where a misjudged tempo can easily sink the performance. There are two schools of thought. One is the slow, measured and broad tempo that allows the music to expand, enrich details and the immortal Celibidache was a great representative of this. Of course there is the pitfall of being too slow and if the conductor’s concentration is flagging, the music becomes boring. The other school goes with faster tempo which is more exciting and the shape of the music is easier to follow (e.g. Barenboim). Maazel belongs to the first category. His performances are on the slow side, but we are rewarded with tremendous insight and sensitivity in developing the themes. There is great control of dynamics from the almost inaudible pp to the thunderous ff - just listen to the feather light string tremolos at the opening of the 4th symphony. Another example is the beautiful Adagio of the 8th, one of the best performances on the disc, where it takes 22 minutes to reach a climax which is truly earth shattering.

This beautifully recorded set is highly recommended.

Pin It

Back to top