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Bruckner: Symphonies 4, 7 & 9 / Schaller, Philharmonie Festiva

Bruckner / Schaller
Release Date: 08/30/2011 
Label:  Profil   Catalog #: 11028   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Gerd Schaller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonie Festiva
Number of Discs: 4 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRUCKNER Symphonies: No. 4, “Romantic”; No. 7; No. 9 (Finale completion by William Carragan) Gerd Schaller, cond; Philharmonie Festiva PROFIL PH11028 (4 CDs: 214:16) Live: Erbrach 7/29/2007, 7/29/2008, 8/1/2010

The main interest here will be in William Carragan’s completion of Bruckner’s extensive sketches for the finale of the Ninth. The completion supplies architectural context for the first three movements, thus Read more providing a valuable corrective to posterity’s deeply ingrained perception of this symphony as “unfinished,” like Schubert’s Eighth (coincidentally, both “ending” with a slow movement in an exotic, otherworldly E Major). That said, I find myself ambivalent about the enterprise for two reasons. First, the quality of the existing music: Although Bruckner left a lot of the movement in a relatively advanced state of sketching—the complete exposition and substantial portions of the development and recapitulation—much of the thematic content itself nevertheless leaves an arid, underdeveloped impression that (to my ears) fails to approach the level of the preceding movements. If he had lived to do more with it, he would surely have transformed it far beyond its existing state. More seriously, much of the movement is completely missing (including all of the coda); in contrast to the finale of Mahler’s 10th, we lack any kind of comprehensive blueprint to work with, in the form of a continuity draft for the entire movement. Carragan’s completion comes into competition with an alternative one by Nicola Samale and Giuseppe Mazzuca, which has been recorded by Eliahu Inbal and the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra (Teldec). Given the lack of any concrete sketches for the coda, any conjectural realization will effectively be an original composition. Carragan’s coda is longer and more imposing than Samale-Mazzuca’s, using, in addition to thematic recalls from the first movement, references to the first movement of the Eighth, as well as borrowing the chorale-apotheosis strategy from the finale of the Fifth.

This performance is billed as the recorded premiere of Carragan’s 2010 revision, but his own notes don’t offer any information on how it differs from his earlier version. That was recorded in 1996 by Yoav Talmi with the Oslo Philharmonic (Chandos), but since I don’t know that recording I can’t comment on differences. In any event I’m glad to have both the Carragan and Samale-Mazzuca completions. Another tack is taken by Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic (RCA, live), who present Bruckner’s sketches in the format of a lecture-recital, without adding anything (spoken commentary in both German and English)—here, I must confess I find their breaking off with the end of the sketches a more moving experience than anyone’s entirely conjectural original composing.

So there’s much of interest here, although I would have thought that a release of the Ninth alone might have been a more competitive proposition—how many prospective purchasers will really want yet another Fourth and Seventh played by a less-than household-name conductor and orchestra?

Happily, the performances are consistently fine ones that will grace any Bruckner collection. The Philharmonie Festiva is none other than the famous Munich Bach Orchestra, augmented for the purpose by players from the other Munich orchestras. They make a handsome sound—rich, sweet, recognizably Bavarian. The recorded acoustic (the Abbey Church in Ebrach) is ideal for Bruckner, reverberant but with plenty of bite and detail.

The Fourth is lyrically shaped with a natural flow, played straight with little deviation from the initially established tempos, though by no means inflexible. There are many imaginative details, starting with the evocatively tapered horn phrases at the opening. Indeed, the brass playing throughout is of exceptional quality, conjuring the work’s forest atmosphere most effectively. I occasionally miss the stronger interpretive profile of the great Bruckner conductors of the present and recent past (e.g., Abbado, Dohnányi, Harnoncourt, Wand)—as in the Andante, whose grey expanses don’t have quite enough tension to my ears.

The Seventh also goes beautifully, with a singing intensity, transparent textures, and an atmospheric first-movement coda. The Adagio has an attractive quality of breathing spontaneity, and an ear-catching sheer beauty of sound, from the thrilling amplitude of the C-Major climax to the purple-hued low brass in the coda. Schaller captures the Scherzo’s rustic Schwung in rich colors and biting detail, while his finale is less febrile than usual (13:00) with perhaps just a hint of stolidity.

As for the familiar portion of the Ninth, the first movement is beautifully lucid with much absorbing textural detail—for example, in the thickly scored stretches of the exposition’s closing section (Rehearsal G ff.), or the nightmarish march episode inserted into the recapitulation (Rehearsal O ff., A?-Minor). Altogether the music’s keel comes across as slightly too even, including a noticeable tendency to smooth out Bruckner’s injunctions to short articulations (for instance, in the quickening woodwind figure at Rehearsal A, along with the preceding violin motive in quarter notes, mm. 28 ff.). The Scherzo is taken slower, and is less demonic in character, than usual, but still very powerful in its smooth, weighty way. The E-Major Adagio is straight, lucid, and lyrical, well shaped and sonorously imposing, if expressively less febrile than some.

Overall, these are high-quality performances of much distinction, and the rarity of Carragan’s completion makes the set a desirable proposition for Bruckner collectors.

FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy


These performances were given at the Ebrach Summer Music Festival as part of the Bruckner Festival in 2007, 2008 and 2010. In co-operation with Bavarian Radio the recordings were made in the glorious setting of the Ebrach Abbey church in Bavaria which on this evidence has a splendid acoustic.

The Philharmonie Festiva may be a new name to many readers. This is a highly accomplished orchestra comprising mainly members of the Munich Bach Soloists augmented by musicians from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Munich Philharmonic. Taking the baton is Bamberg-born conductor Gerd Schaller who is the founder and musical director of the Ebrach Summer Music Festival.

The performance of the Ninth Symphony contains the first recording of the revised 2010 version of the finale completed by William Carragan. Carragan is a contributing editor of the Anton Bruckner Collected Edition and has prepared a new edition of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2. From 1979 to 1983 he worked on a finale for the Bruckner Ninth. That first completion can be heard from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yoav Talmi on Chandos CHAN 8468/9 but revisions also followed in 2003 and 2006.

Composed in 1874, the Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, known as the Romantic, has been given wholesale revisions at various times. The 1878/1880 version recorded on this disc has been described by composer and musicologist Robert Simpson as, “ clean and lean”. The memorable opening under Gerd Schaller is marvellously done; immediately convincing. Schaller’s pacing is impressive navigating the flow and broad sweep of the writing with broad assurance. The horns have a significant part throughout and the Philharmonie Festiva brass is in impressive form displaying a burnished tone.

Composed in 1881-83, the Symphony No. 7 in E major is the most popular of Bruckner’s symphonies and it brought the composer the greatest success he had known. It was Arthur Nikisch who conducted the première at Leipzig in 1884. Schaller attains great nobility in a performance that leaves a powerful effect. The orchestral climaxes are remarkable with Schaller astutely building the tension from calm hush to furious climax.

Bruckner was working on his Symphony No. 9 in D minor at the time of his death in 1896. The first three movements were completed with sketches left for a fourth. Bruckner said, “ I have served my purpose of earth; I have done what I could, and there is only one thing I would still like to be granted: the strength to finish my Ninth Symphony.” At Bruckner’s own suggestion the unfinished symphony was often performed with the Te deum serving as the final movement. For this Ebrach Abbey performance Schaller uses the revised 2010 version of the final movement as completed by William Carragan. In this reading I was struck how confidently Schaller demonstrates a real understanding of the score’s structure. There’s a splendid clarity about his reading. In addition I love the way Schaller emphasises the spiritual qualities especially in the gloriously played second movement Adagio.

This is a really impressive release. The engineers have done a remarkable job providing a clear, well-balanced sound. There are decent notes in the booklet. Carragan’s completion of the Ninth Symphony is an added attraction.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 9 in D minor, WAB 109 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Gerd Schaller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonie Festiva
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891-1896; Vienna, Austria 
Notes: Finale completed by William Carragan. 
Symphony no 7 in E major, WAB 107 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Gerd Schaller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonie Festiva
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1881-1883; Vienna, Austria 
Symphony no 4 in E flat major, WAB 104 "Romantic" by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Gerd Schaller
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonie Festiva
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Vienna, Austria 

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