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Bruckner: Symphony No 9 / Rattle, Berlin Philharmoniker


Release Date: 05/22/2012 
Label:  Warner Classics   Catalog #: 52969  
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

It’s good to be able to report that both Rattle and the ensemble do some excellent work, certainly some of their best so far. The basic sonority actually comes close to what Karajan used to offer: a spectacularly rich cushion of strings that promises much and delivers in full in the Adagio.

There are many myths concerning Bruckner’s finales, not the least of which is that they are somehow “problematic”. Not true. After the Fourth Symphony, each is perfectly appropriate in its own way to the work in question, and the lesson we learn from the Eighth Symphony is that any issues concerning the length and structure of the finale are no less applicable to the work’s other movements as well. The finale of the Ninth in this
Read more version lasts 653 bars, of which 96 are completely conjectural, having been filled in by the editorial team of Samale, Phillips, Cohrs, and Mazzuca. Bruckner left 440 bars in score, and 117 bars in sketch. This is a lot of authentic Bruckner, but the numbers remain deceptive.

The fact is that anyone can write fake Bruckner. When a composer has a distinctive sound, as Bruckner certainly does, pastiche composing is a simple thing. It is the strokes of genius, the leaps into the unknown, those moments where the idiom moves into new terrain, that can’t be anticipated or copied. It therefore follows that the problems with this finale are just as likely to arise out of original material that Bruckner wrote down but was not able to bang into final shape because he had not yet grasped its full implications, as from those less important bits of his usual stuff that he never committed to paper at all.

There are moments that sound unquestionably idiomatic: you can hear one from about 14 minutes in if you sample the sound clip below. Others, equally “idiomatic” technically speaking, are simply unconvincing, such as the return of the opening movement’s unison theme at the very end. This is a cheap tactic, and while Bruckner does it all the time, and may well have thought about doing it again, making this tune the “bad guy” whose rather too easy defeat precedes the final victorious apotheosis comes off as a mere cliché. Then there is the terribly fragmented, stop-and-start character of the second subject material after the (inevitable) unison theme near the movement’s opening. Again, this may be all Bruckner, but it comes very close to self-parody, and it may be one of those things that he would have adjusted on reflection. Or maybe not. We can’t know.

What about the performance? I purchased (please note) this disc full of trepidation, because although there’s no question that the Berlin Philharmonic remains one of the world’s great orchestras, Simon Rattle has so consistently failed to live up to his much vaunted reputation that it was difficult to work up much enthusiasm for this release. However, while not perfect, it’s good to be able to report that both Rattle and the ensemble do some excellent work, certainly some of their best so far. The basic sonority actually comes close to what Karajan used to offer: a spectacularly rich cushion of strings that promises much and delivers in full in the Adagio, but that tends to obscure some rhythmic detail in the tuttis. Thus, the dotted-rhythm brass exchanges in the horns and trombones in the first movement’s coda become undifferentiated blobs of harmony, and the loud outbursts in the scherzo lack timbral differentiation. At lower volume levels, though, the playing is gorgeous in all departments.

As for Rattle’s approach, he deserves credit for having conceived the interpretation so as to project the work as a genuine, four-movement symphony. The tendency over the years has been to balance the piece with the adagio in mind as the finale, which means a long, slow first movement as a counterbalance. Rattle takes the opening movement and finale at similar speeds. Both last about 23 minutes, the Adagio a bit longer, making it the natural focal point of the work. The result makes perfect sense structurally, and the result is very intelligent and wholly convincing. Whether or not you find the finale completely satisfying, Rattle’s view of how it fits into the symphony’s larger scheme is surely the right one. Ultimately, then, this is a release that no Bruckner fan can afford to miss, and we should take a moment to give due credit to the team of Samale, Phillips, Cohrs, and Mazzuca for their sensitive work on Bruckner’s score, as well as to Rattle and Berlin for displaying the results in such a positive light.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1896; Vienna, Austria 

Sound Samples

Bruckner: Symphony No.9: I. Feierlich: Misterioso
Bruckner: Symphony No.9: II. Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft
Bruckner: Symphony No.9: III. Adagio: Langsam
Bruckner: Symphony No.9: IV. Finale: Misterioso, nicht schnell

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  6 Customer Reviews )
 ignore the BS August 9, 2013 By K. BAKER (HEBER CITY, UT) See All My Reviews "The lead review says, "There are many myths concerning Bruckner’s finales, not the least of which is that they are somehow “problematic”. Not true. After the Fourth Symphony, each is perfectly appropriate in its own way" This idiot has no understanding what soever of the structure of a Bruckner symphony. Celibidache pointed out decades ago that the key to Bruckner is understanding that the finale of a Bruckner symphony usually does not come at the end. Nor does it necessarily come at the end of any of movement. It often comes more or less in the middle of any of the four movements. The EMI incomplete set of Bruckner's symphonies by Celibidache / Munich Philharmonic is enlightening. Note that Celibidache takes almost 30 minutes longer for the 8th than does von Karajan. "The Gramophone" is currently open for voting for the "disk of the year". the Rattle 9th is a candidate for best orchestral CD. The Gramophone's review of the performance is spot on: with the added completed fourth movement, this recording stands with Bruno Walter's 1960 recording of the 3 complete Bruckner movements as the top choice. In the three movement 9th, Walter stands alone, and the recent Sony reissue has surprisingly good sound for its age (I listened to it five days ago, and I'm still humming it in my head, and how often have you ever gone away from a concert or recording humming Bruckner?). Admittedly, I have not yet heard the Rattle version, but I plan to buy it because the Gramophone review said that by adding the 4th movement, it rises to the Walter league, the one and only competition to Walter. BTW: in general, Barenboim (Teldec) is the top choice for Bruckner and the Naxos Tintner recordings (which include both # 0 and # 1) are well worth the price." Report Abuse
 Is it necessary? August 21, 2012 By JOHN A.  JOHNSON (LITTLE NECK, NY) See All My Reviews "The completion of the fourth movement is intersting, but it is for the most part not real Bruckner. As a Bruckner interpreter Rattle is not in the class as conductors such as Jochum, Knappertsbusch and von Karajan. I am glad to have the fourth movement, but I can live without it." Report Abuse
 Bruckner 9 - Rattle - Fourth mouvement August 7, 2012 By Rene Tinawi (St-Laurent, QC) See All My Reviews "I prefer the first three movements by Carlo-Maria Guilini or Gunter Wand where the emotion is very present. The only interesting part of this recording is the completed fourth mouvement of this ninth symphony. It is very Brucknerian well performed and worth the purchase. The rest of the record is quite ordinary and somewhat dissapointing. May be the chemistry between Rattle and Bruckner was not at its best during this live recording. René Tinawi Montreal" Report Abuse
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