Most complete cycles of symphonies present their difficulties. Many have a red headed step child. Even the most famous CD cycles such as Karajan's first DG Beethoven set (still on sale by DG), has its spoilt kid, the Pastoral.
This is Daniel Barenboim's third kick at the can with Bruckner. Previous cycles with Chicago and Berlin were well played but had their fans and detractors.
This new set is recorded by Barenboim's company, Peral Music. It looks suspiciously like a DG project. No matter, Barenboim and his amazing Staatskapelle Berlin are recorded in sumptuous sound, detailed and refulgent. Just what the Bruckner ordered.
The playing is staggeringly consistent. From the opening of the youth symphony 'till the hushed, sustained closing of the magnificent Ninth, the playing is uniformly brilliant. You'll find no weaknesses or red heads, here.
As for editions, Barenboim chooses Haas for Nos 4 and 8, Nowak for Nos 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9, Carragan for No 2 and Oeser for No 3. The First Symphony uses the 1877 revision of the Linz score.
All the symphonies are infused with rhythmic vitality. Barenboim keeps tempos moving but nothing ever sounds rushed. Even the massive 8th Adagio, which can be dragged out interminably, moves at a good pace. But within these faster tempos, solos, which are incredibly distinguished, never sound rushed. The consistency is really quite remarkable. I think Barenboim, always a serious musician, took these recordings very seriously. Bruckner is de rigueur, the Staatskapelle is his wunderkind orchestra, giving its neighbour a run for its money as top Berlin band, and on his label. Thus, no inconsistencies.
The famous moments, the highlights if you will, all sound terrific. You won't find better on record. Let's see, my TDF list - 4th opening horn call, 4th opening movement brass fanfares, 4th Scherzo, 4th closing horns, 5th opening, 5th Adagio, 7th Symphony opening, 7th opening movement brass fanfares, 7th Adagio coda, 7th Scherzo, 8th Adagio, 8th Finale opening strings and timpani, 9th opening, 9th Scherzo, 9th last movement. That'll do to start. And each excerpt sounds brilliant. And so does all the connective musical tissue. You can't go wrong, I tried. I mixed and matched, played the whole set through and backwards, nothing fazed Barenboim's interpretation or his orchestra's playing.
Bruckner wrote two study symphonies, the odly numbered 00 and 0, both pretty good indicators of what was to come but not included here. 1 to 3 are wonderful, fresh takes on his developing style. 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 are huge masterpieces. Not sure why I don't cotton to No. 6, but there it is, musically my red headed little Anton Bruckner.
Great Brucknerians like Eugen Jochum have recorded fine sets, but even Jochum's set is inconsistent. We're fortunate to have this new Barenboim. And if you want a complete set for your Bruckner fix, it's an easy first choice. Very highly recommended.
Nos. 1-3: Recorded live in Vienna 2012
Nos. 4-9: Recorded live in Berlin 2010
BRUCKNER Symphonies Nos 1 - 9 (Complete)
- Symphony No. 1
- Symphony No. 2
- Symphony No. 3
- Symphony No. 4, 'Romantic'
- Symphony No. 5
- Symphony No. 6
- Symphony No. 7
- Symphony No. 8
- Symphony No. 9