Do you ever type a streaming query in Roon for a classical work and are overwhelmed by the choices? Rather than clicking on any old recording or the first one you see, Audiophilia will make things a little easier for you and do the heavy listening.
These choices are for streaming only. Is the best in streaming also the best vinyl recording and performance? That’s for another article.
A few criteria:
Recording must be on Qobuz and/or Tidal HiFi.
It does not have to be HiRes or MQA.
No more than ten recommendations in no particular order, then my top three for streaming in order of preference.
Before you go ape and dismiss this list out of hand with the omissions of Bruckner giants such as Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter, please remember the choices have to be complete cycles of the nine symphonies—also, they may or may not include the two ‘study symphonies’, 0 and 00—sadly, Klemperer, Furtwängler and Walter do not have complete cycles on streaming services. Yet. Check out the extra list at the end of the post for my choices for individual symphonies. That may make you a little happier.
The ten choices are, in no particular order:
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra—Karajan
Berlin Philharmonic/Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra—Jochum
Chicago Symphony Orchestra—Barenboim
Weiner Symphoniker—Volkmar Andreae
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra—Masur
Orchestre Metropolitan de Montreal—Yannick Nezet Seguin
Kolner Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester—Gunter Wand
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra—Maazel
Editions? That’s up to you. Bruckner was famously unsophisticated in matters of business and was convinced by colleagues and friends they could ‘better’ his symphonies. At times, I prefer the original version, That said, many recordings feature Leopold Nowak’s tasteful 1950’s editions. I’d say stick with Nowak or the original. Musicologists (‘A musicologist is a man who can read music but can’t hear it’—Sir Thomas Beecham’) have attempted editions and, God forbid, completions of the sacred, unfinished Ninth. Even a community college physics teacher. Most of these ‘critical editions’ have been recorded—definitely not on any of my lists—by C list conductors and D list orchestras.
The Andreae box included I received a while ago for review on CD. I was very impressed by the very thoughtful and beautiful interpretations of the Swiss conductor/composer, the fine playing of Vienna’s second orchestra and the rich mono sound. I think you may be surprised at the results considering the recorded format, orchestra and fairly unknown conductor.
My three top box sets of the cycle are as follows in order of preference:
I think you’ll enjoy the consistency of the Haitink set which features the glorious acoustic of the Concertgebouw highlighting very refined playing and Haitink’s mainstream, musical interpretations. Every performance is a gem topped by a spectacular Eighth, nudged out for top individual performance below by the legendary 1949 Furtwängler/Berlin studio performance, which is my nomination for the best Bruckner recording bar none, and in superb mono sound.
Consistency is the mainstay of the latest Barenboim set (his third), played beautifully by his longtime charges at the Staatskapelle Berlin. He’s taken that orchestra from GDR shadow to international touring stardom. Each section is flawless in ensemble and has a big boned, German brass sound. Perfect for Bruckner. And Barenboim brings his superb musicianship to the interpretations. A pleasure from 1 through 9.
But the King’s trophy must go to Eugen Jochum and his DG mix & match set with Germany’s two greatest orchestras. Jochum’s Bruckner unfolds naturally no matter the symphony, are recorded beautifully with out any Karajan knob twiddling, and feature the best playing on record.
Jochum is almost always underrated (not by me), but his Bruckner and Brahms and many other composers are among the very best on record. For fun, check out his live Osaka/Concertgebouw Bruckner Seventh from 1986 on YouTube. Such refinement, such power, such emotion! And you won’t hear a more perfect climax of the Finale. Gives me goosebumps every time.
The following recordings are available to stream and feature my personal favourites for each individual symphony, if it’s possible to have only one?
Tintner/Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Klemperer/ (New) Philharmonia
Furtwängler/Berlin Philharmonic (Studio performance)
Schuricht /Vienna Philharmonic
If you get a chance, try Reference Recording’s new Pittsburgh Ninth with Manfred Honeck. I’ve not been a fan of the conductor’s previous releases, but his Ninth is absolutely super—performance, recording and a wonderful interpretation.