There was a time when Anton Bruckner's
music was considered unfashionable. Luckily, times change. The
Schwann Opus reference guide now lists over two-hundred different
recordings of his nine symphonies. In fact, there are twenty-three
different versions of the great Fifth Symphony alone! From
Wilhelm Furtwängler to Günter Wand, legendary performances
abound. Thus, any new recording, even one of the budget variety,
should attempt to offer the listener something new. The responsibilities
for any incumbent recording are weighty to say the least!
With this in mind, innovative record
company Naxos has chosen veteran conductor Georg Tintner and the
Royal Scottish National Orchestra to justify a new complete cycle
of the Bruckner symphonies. Georg Tintner is known to me only
through his exceptional work with the National Youth Orchestra
of Canada. His biography suggests experience as a conductor of
opera both in Europe and Australia. He has also been Music Director
of Symphony Nova Scotia, Canada's maritime orchestra.
The new Naxos recording is a somewhat
hit-and-miss affair. Interpretively, Tintner has some interesting
things to say. He conveys effectively Bruckner's sense of mystery
and awesome power, and allows the orchestra leeway to produce
some thrilling sounds. Tintner shapes the angular theme that opens
the symphony, with strong, propulsive energy. Happily, this rhythmic
quality is sustained through most of the movement. Much of the
great Adagio has a lovely elegiac quality, and the Scherzo is
incisive, yet rustic in quality. And yet, though the musicians'
efforts are well-intentioned, much of the performance does not
convince. Consistency and purpose, in some ways, are missing,
and the lack of conviction diminishes Bruckner. I felt unmoved.
Only in the last movement do I feel
a synergy between conductor and orchestra finally taking place.
The great fugal movement is given a fine reading. Inflections
are weighty, with rhythm taut and always forward-moving. The opening
reflections on the previous movements are beautifully done, with
an autumnal quality prefacing the dramatic fugue to follow.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra
are a fine body, however, the symphony does sound a little under-rehearsed.
This is a budget recording and session time may have been brief.
In Britain, the rehearsal time is often part of the recording
session! As such, there are quite a few inconsistencies in execution.
At times intonation suffers and, with the exception of the solo
oboe, the woodwind solos are undistinguished.
In comparison, the woodwinds of The Cleveland
Orchestra (London 433318-2) are superb. Under Christoph von Dohnányi's
loving direction, the players shape and caress their solos beautifully.
Great patience is needed when performing Bruckner - an expansive
quality is required and the solos need time to breathe. Many of
the RSNO players sound unconvinced. However, it would be churlish
not to mention some outstanding contributions - the oboe soloist,
horns, trumpets and timpanist are quite magnificent throughout.
A serious note about the pivotal Adagio
movement: the introduction, for my taste and in my experience,
is taken far too quickly. The oboe soloist must hurry the gentle
syncopation Bruckner provides, which, on reflection, sounds quite
inelegant. We are not left to ponder why. Tintner's explanation
for the unorthodox tempo is explained in his superbly-written
notes. It is a tempo, however, with which I cannot agree. Compare
Klemperer and his New Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI CDM 7 63612
2) for a lesson in sustained beauty. The score is marked "very
slowly". Klemperer delivers exactly what is advertised, as
do Christoph von Dohnányi (London 433318-2), Franz Welser-Möst
(EMI CDC 55125) and Riccardo Chailly (London 433819-2). All are
stellar advocates of this great work and can be recommended comfortably.
Personally, I have great affection for Otto Klemperer's performance.
It is played and recorded magnificently, and intrigues me like
The Naxos sound, as recorded in Glasgow's
Henry Wood Hall, is not ideal for Bruckner. The soundscape needs
a large space, allowing the huge climaxes time to resonate. The
acoustic sounds dry, resulting in a distinct lack of bloom around
the orchestra. The astringent atmosphere may appeal to some. Inner
details are heard easily and the brass ring out thrillingly. Sadly,
the bass is woolly and undefined. The trombones, tuba and string
basses are conspicuous by their absence. This is a journeyman
recording, and, as such, audiophiles should consider their purchase
A mixed bag then. I wanted to recommend
this performance. I truly admire the Naxos philosophy. They are
instrumental in the not-so-quiet revolution occurring in the classical
music recording business. They attempt to offer great music and
great recordings at great value. Their practice has given the
public some wonderful performances. Unhappily, the start of the
Bruckner cycle cannot be included among them. Definitely, for
Bruckner completists only.
Copyright©Anthony Kershaw, 1997