This complete set of Bruckner symphonies is in mono sound, taken from live Vienna performances in Jan/Feb 1953 by Radio Wien. Directing the Vienna Symphony (not the much more famous Philharmoniker) is Volkmar Andreae (1879 – 1962). He was a Swiss conductor who spent much of his time working in Austria, eschewing recording and disliking the jet set lifestyle of the international conductor. Hence, his lack of notoriety. He was also a composer and teacher of some note.
So, not much to go on with this historical gem of a CD set.
I heard about it through Audiophilia contributor, James Norris. He called me from London very excited about this new Music & Arts release. Jim is as much a Bruckner enthusiast as me and thought they would be to my taste. I quickly put an SOS out to Naxos (the distributor) for a quick download. As always, they came through. In minutes, the entire 9 CD set (as FLAC files) was in my Antipodes DS1 music server.
It was late at night when the files downloaded, so I turned the volume quite low and played the opening of the 4th to begin the journey. I was very disappointed, almost immediately. I won’t go on too much about the problems I heard, but it turns out this set has to be played at full volume, whatever that is in your room, to appreciate the incredible subtleties of this set. Turned down, subtlety is gone, emotion is almost nil and the recording sounds like it’s coming out of a chocolate box. My reference system did not like!
Up at realistic volumes, Andreae’s vision for Bruckner became very clear. In all the symphonies, there is a firm grasp of the structure — it’s not ‘precious’ as so many present day conductors attempt. All glory and heaven. Andreae doesn’t hang around to find out if you’re having a good time. Tempos are generally quick and the climaxes are not highlighted. But, they are just as intense. And, they make sense. Melodies unfold beautifully, the big moments are preceded by a slight emphasis of the preceding chord or note, and nothing sounds funereal. Much of it is heartbreaking, though.
There will be lots written about different editions of the symphonies in this set by Bruckner ‘scholars’. Yawn. Here’s the quick version. Bruckner was unsophisticated and got pushed around a lot where his publisher was concerned. But, even Haas, Nowak, Schalk and all the others who had a crack at ‘improving’ Bruckner are a nevermind. Bruckner’s music is eternal. The meddling of editors is not. Just ignore the verbosity and adore the music.
The recordings? Mono, but still detailed and warm. Some compression and a lot of added ‘acoustic’. Audiophiles? Smile. You won’t be getting this set for the sound, but turned to ‘11’, the set had power and some heft. And, enough detail to recognize the excellence of the flute, clarinet and horn and the fact that the poor oboist must have been going through a nervous breakdown at the time. He consistently has ‘bad days’. Strings and brass get the job done for the most part.
Bruckner wrote five great symphonies (4, 5, 7, 8, 9), and all five receive knockout performances. The good 6th is also very well done. Symphonies 1, 2 and 3 are youthful and sound here as Bruckner must have intended. As such, Andreae gets the great arc of Bruckner’s life music beautifully. Music & Arts adds the Te Deum as a bonus.
For me, this set is a great discovery. A unique perspective on Bruckner missing from today’s jetset conductors. Many lose the arc and present a road map in bas-relief. Here a climax, there a climax, everywhere a climax. The unsung Andreae presents what Bruckner may have envisaged. The nutty audiophile in me does not mind the mono sound as the performances take you on one hell of a ride. Fresh and new, but from another era. Highly recommended.
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Music and Arts CD-1227(9)
ANDREAE CONDUCTS BRUCKNER. BRUCKNER: Symphonies, Nos. 1-9 & Te Deum.
Recording of the 1953 cycle with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
Conductor: Volkmar Andreae.
From the Archives of ORF/Radio Õsterreich
Digital restoration by Aaron Z. Snyder (2009)
CD 1: (43:08) Symphonie Nr. 1 c-moll WAB 101 (”Linzer Fassung” von 1877, ed. 1953 Leopold Nowak). Symphony Nr. 1 in C Minor. CD 2: (51:00) Symphonie Nr. 2 c-moll WAB 102 (Fassg. 1878/80, ed. Robert Haas). Symphony Nr 2 in C Minor. CD 3: (50:48) Symphonie Nr. 3 d-moll WAB 103 (Fassung 1890, ed. Th. Rättig). Symphony Nr 3 in D Minor. CD 4: (60:29) Symphonie Nr. 4 Es-Dur WAB 104 [gen. "Romantische"] (”Originalfassung” von 1886, ed. Leopold Nowak). Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major. CD 5: (68:31) Symphonie Nr. 5 B-Dur WAB 105 (Originalfassung). Symphony Nr 5 in B Flat Major. CD 6: (50:49) Symphonie Nr. 6 A-Dur WAB 106 (Fassung von 1881, ed. Robert Haas). Symphony Nr 6 in A Major. CD 7: (58:26) Symphonie Nr. 7 E-Dur WAB 107 (Originalfassung). Symphony Nr 7 in E Major. CD 8: (72:13) Symphonie Nr. 8 c-moll WAB 108 (Fassung: N.N.). Symphony Nr 8 in C Minor. CD 9: (71:43) Symphonie Nr. 9 d-moll WAB 109 (Originalfassung). Te Deum WAB 45 für Soli, Chor, Orchester und Orgel. Symphony Nr 9 in D Minor & Te Deum. Emmy Loose, S./ Hildegard Rössel-Majdan, A./ Anton Dermota, T./ Gottlob Frick, Bs./Alois Forer, Orgel/ Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien.