Seven months prior to this April, 1977 live performance Karl Böhm recorded the Bruckner Seventh Symphony with the Vienna Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon. The differences between the two performances, while not drastic, are telling. This is not the only occasion where Böhm exhibited greater spontaneity and emotion on the stage than in the studio (his live Schubert Ninth from Dresden is another, quite startling example), but it points up the greater freedom the conductor felt in front of a live audience.
Not that the Vienna performance is in any way restrained; Böhm offers a beautiful conception of the work, wonderfully realized by the orchestra, with its famouslyRead more gorgeous string sound and rich-toned brass. The Munich performance is basically the same interpretation, though with greater flexibility of tempo in the first movement (the quite fast second subject, building up to a dramatically slow brass climax) and a more deeply felt Adagio.
Of course, the Bavarian Radio Symphony has a very different sound than Vienna, and where the Munich players lack their colleagues' velvety sonic upholstery, they more than make up for it with a piquant and somewhat rough-hewn quality that's arguably more appropriate to Bruckner. This is easily discernible thanks to Böhm's impressive textural clarity. So much of Bruckner's distinctive and peculiar counterpoint comes through that in some passages the work sounds almost unfamiliar. Small, yet significant motives flit about among the brass and winds as the music builds to climaxes, while some of the sustained brass chords, especially in the Adagio, reveal the advanced level of Bruckner's harmonic writing. This movement's great climax (percussion included) comes off radiantly in Böhm's hands, and he maintains the intensity throughout the following brass chorale. The scherzo and finale are equally excellent, with Böhm again delineating Bruckner's complex motivic structure.
Perhaps this is the kind of performance Böhm could only achieve onstage, and we are fortunate that it was recorded and now is made available to us in fine sound by Audite. A must for Bruckner lovers!