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Bruckner: Symphony No 8 / Van Zweden, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic

Bruckner / Netherlands Radio Philharmonic
Release Date: 10/09/2012 
Label:  Challenge   Catalog #: 72549  
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Jaap van Zweden
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 8 (1890 version) Jaap van Zweden, cond; Netherlands RPO CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72549 (79: 28)

This is the first Bruckner disc I have heard from Jaap van Zweden’s ongoing cycle for Challenge Classics, but I am already very impressed. Using the most familiar 1890 version, van Zweden is cluttering up a field that’s already crowded, not least by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic’s closest rival; the mighty Concertgebouw, whose Bruckner credentials span from Read more Eduard van Beinum, to Bernard Haitink, and Riccardo Chailly, to name but a few.

But there is certainly nothing second rate about the Netherlands Radio forces, with a glistening string sound and rich brass, as well as an athleticism arguably lacking from their plush Dutch rival. Speeds are swift, yet sensible, and, without resorting to the varnish removal that Philippe Herreweghe achieves with his Bruckner (admittedly, I have only heard his version of the 7th Symphony), van Zweden’s approach is startling in its tonal clarity. This is still a very romantic performance, with carefully molded woodwind playing and full bodied brass playing, but listen to the scherzo’s hushed, shivery strings, or the grand opening of the finale, and one can hear how carefully van Zweden maintains clarity, and without sacrificing grandeur. Sacrilege as it may be to turn one’s back on the Concertgebouw for this music, I found myself genuinely preferring the Netherlands Radio’s more athletic palette to the thick gloss of Riccardo Chailly’s otherwise very fine version on Decca. At the other end of the scale there’s Furtwangler’s neurotic, craggy view (his 1949 Berlin recording, rather than the Vienna 1944 reading), which is glorious but not for all occasions. I also put van Zweden against Solti’s first and underrated 8th with the Vienna Philharmonic from the 1960s, as both are similarly swift and dynamic in conception, but although van Zweden doesn’t have Solti’s impulsive way with climaxes, nor does he have John Culshaw’s Technicolor recording to support him, his is a better overall interpretation that better puts this symphony’s individual statements into a logical context.

This is confident, modern age Bruckner playing that is neither in past-dwelling awe of the great Bruckner conductors of yesteryear, nor in a shrill, revisionist attempt to un-Wagnerize this music. The sound is very impressive, balanced, refined, and spacious, but packs enough wallop at climaxes. I’m guessing being an SACD hybrid meant having to split this nippy performance across two discs, which is a shame. Otherwise, thoroughly recommended, a first choice even.

FANFARE: Barnaby Rayfield
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 in C minor, WAB 108 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Jaap van Zweden
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Vienna, Austria 

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