This is the first release on Daniel Barenboim’s own label, Peral Music (in association with Universal Music). ‘All releases will be offered as Mastered for iTunes, the highest-quality sound format available on the iTunes store globally’. Not sure if that is good or bad, but the musical team looks mighty fine.
The Staatskapelle Berlin is the house band for the 450 year old Berliner Staatsoper Unter den Linden. It was stuck behind the Berlin Wall for many years, but is now shining under a unified German sun inspired by Barenboim’s leadership (since 1992, and ‘conductor for life’).
The orchestra has been recording Bruckner’s ‘mature’ symphonies successfully under Barenboim on the Unitel label. As always with Barenboim, there are musical delights where most thought they didn’t exist and he has the orchestra playing almost as well as its noisy neighbour.
Bareboim and his band performed the Ring Cycle in London at the Proms last summer to huge acclaim. Almost, a second musical coming! But, much like many ‘amazing’ Proms admired by the Brit papers and ‘Prommers’, the scrutiny of BBC iPlayer second hearings and headphones tells a slightly different story. Yes, the orchestra has a beautifully cultivated sound, but, as a crack ensemble, they still run second to the Berliner Philharmoniker and the best the US has to offer.
This is Barenboim’s third cycle. Previous cycles with Chicago and Berlin did not take the Bruckner world by storm. How do the Berlin Staaskapelle fare in this first instalment of a full Bruckner cycle?
Barenboim emphasizes the Wagnerian spirit of the early two symphonies and makes a case for the 3rd, not 4th, as being the first great Bruckner symphony. The conductor enjoys the grand design of the symphonies and their standard forms. You always know what you’re going to get with Bruckner musical form, but the pleasure is in the radiance and beauty of the music.
Barenboim’s effective use of rubato is played beautifully by the wind soloists of the orchestra. Flute, oboe, clarinet, trombones and tuba are equally fine. Yes, the Brit summer love in was somewhat warranted. The Staatskapelle Berlin is a very fine orchestra. Throughout the three symphonies, you’ll get first class, cultured Brucknerian playing, as you would in Leipzig and Dresden. No more, no less. But, no matter how great this orchestra is, it misses the very last ounce of corporate brilliance that the Berlin Phil provide on a damp Monday morning and the Vienna Philharmonic do when they are in the mood.
Also, there are cheap full sets available by Tintner on Naxos and I think Jochum’s great set is available for the price of a tuna sandwich. At just under 5 bucks a symphony, this new set will run the same price as most recent sets.
To the recording. This is where the set is let down slightly. Not so much in Bruckner’s wonderful counterpoint, to which Barenboim and the ‘hall’ give great clarity, but at the ends of the giant climaxes. Here, it’s better then the ten second delay of a cathedral (think Gunter Wand), but the Peral Music recording’s decay has a slightly artificial ‘ring’ to it. Unsure whether the fault lies in the engineering, the hall or the limitations of iTunes sound reproduction, but it’s there on my system. And, at maximum 256 Kb resolution on a exclusively download format, Peral Music has shot itself in the audiophile foot. I’m sure iTunes wanted and an exclusive deal, but we all know that iTunes and Audiophilia are mutually exclusive. That said, under most circumstances, the recording will be fine and the slightly harsh decay and compression only bothersome when listening with expensive headphones or to grumpy audiophiles.
So, a good, musical start to Barenboim’s third cycle. He obviously has a great fondness for his orchestra and Bruckner. It shows in the sound they produce, the unified interpretations of these early symphonies, and you’ll hear the same wonderful musicality Barenboim elicits from every group he conducts. If you’re up for a fresh Bruckner cycle or you need a recording of these three symphonies, you’ll find much to enjoy and admire. If, like me, you gravitate to any exciting new Bruckner project or are an avid completist, you’ll not be disappointed.
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor
Allegro molto moderato
Finale. Bewegt und feurig
Symphony No. 2 in C Minor
Adagio. Feierlich, etwas bewegt
Finale. Mehr schnell - Sehr schnell
Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Gemässigt, mehr bewegt, Misterioso
Adagio, bewegt, quasi Andante
Scherzo (Ziemlich schnell)
Release date April 30 only on iTunes.
Peral Music website