As if by some strange act of providence, great conductors have often been remembered by the immediate posthumous release of some fine and representative recording. With Beecham it was Strauss's Em Heldenleben, with Bruno Walter it was Mahler's Ninth Symphony, and with Karajan it is the Eighth Symphony of Bruckner, perhaps the symphony he loved and revered above all others. It is also, happily, an exclusively Austrian affair, the music of the country's finest symphonist played by their finest orchestra under Bruckner's finest Austrian-born interpreter.
Karajan has recorded the symphony twice before, of course. Indeed, there are some collectors who still swear by his old and currently deleted 1957 EMI Berlin LP recording, theRead more grandest, gauntest, and slowest of the three, though I suppose the 1975 Berlin DG one has for some time been the representative library version, ahead of all rivals except the earlier of Wand's two recordings (EMI/Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 0 CDS7 47749-8) which offers very much a complementary view of the work, leaner and generally quicker.
As many collectors are bound to want to know how the new Viennese version compares with the 1975 Berlin account, I began with some blind lastings. In the Scherzo the Berlin version emerged as the tauter of the two, more vivid, and more jocund; but the new Viennese account of the first movement turns the tables and its plainer Scherzo, very powerful in its furthest reaches, is its proper sequel. Thereafter, apart from some sampling of the Berlin performance, I allowed the Vienna one to speak for itself, unimpeded by cross-reference. And a wonderful reading it is, as authoritative as its predecessors and every bit as well played but somehow more profound, more humane, more lovable if that is a permissible attribute of an interpretation of this Everest among symphonies. When Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic took the performance to New York earlier this year, Andrew Porter wrote in the New Yorker: "one had the sense—rarely conveyed by the crack orchestras that never get a note wrong—that the players were not so much obedient virtuoso servants of the conductor's will, as, to a man, sharers, collaborators in an interpretation". Which is my earlier point, put another way. For it is the sense of the music being in the hearts and minds and collective unconscious of Karajan and every one of the hundred and more players that gives this performance its particular charisma and appeal.
Fortunately, it has been recorded with plenty of weight and space and warmth and clarity; and the sessions were obviously sufficiently happy for there to shine through moments of spontaneous power and eloquence that were commonplace in the concert hall in Karajan's later years, but which recordings can't always be relied upon to catch.Collectors with the earlier DG set, which also includes a performance of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, will probably rest content in as much as the interpretation hasn't significantly altered. But new collectors should start with the Vienna recording which has the benefit of the added vibrancy and warmth of the Viennese playing. The end of the work, always astonishing and uplifting, is especially fine here and, in the circumstances, very moving. Indeed, in such a context it is difficult to forget Bunyan: "So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side". For Bruckner, and for Karajan, may they long go on sounding.
-- R.O., Gramophone [10/1989] Reviewing original release DG 427-611 Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 8 in C minor, WAB 108by Anton Bruckner Conductor:
Herbert von Karajan
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 11/1988 Venue: Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna Length: 82 Minutes 49 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 4 Customer Reviews )
A Karajan specialty February 12, 2017By Gail M. (Goleta, CA)See All My Reviews"The Bruckner 8th Symphony was a specialty of Herbert von Karajan, and here it is preserved in a very fine performance by the Vienna Philharmonic. This is the Haas edition of the second version, so it gives us the composer's final ideas for this masterpiece, with a few cuts restored from the first version. Karajan's style fits this symphony very well. The only fault I can report is that a few of the loudest passages sound to me a little harsh or congested in this recording."Report Abuse
An Everest Among Symphonies*November 10, 2016By owen ryan (lakewood, CA)See All My Reviews"Karajan first recorded this work in 1944 and for the next 45 years it was integral to his core repertoire. In awarding this work a rosette, Penguin Guide stated ''this is a performance in which beauty and truth go hand in hand.'' Richard Osborn declares ''it is a wonderful reading of this Everest among symphonies.'' At just a couple of seconds under 83 minutes this may be about the longest playing single CD in my collection. As all the reviews attest this is an outstanding performance and a great audio recording."Report Abuse
majesticDecember 1, 2012By mac m. (new york, NY)See All My Reviews"Majestic in the true sense of the word. Anything more would only be luff."Report Abuse