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Bruckner: Symphony No 8 / Karajan, Vienna Philharmonic

Karajan / Wiener Philharmoniker
Release Date: 10/09/2012 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001739202   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

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, the
Read 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

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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 in C minor, WAB 108 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/1988 
Venue:  Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna 
Length: 82 Minutes 49 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 An Everest Among Symphonies* November 10, 2016 By 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
 majestic December 1, 2012 By 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
 An Old Friend Returns In A Well Done Remastering October 21, 2012 By Mark Stenroos (Lake Forest, CA) See All My Reviews "Version of 1890: ed. Haas Recorded in the Great Hall of the Vienna Musikverein, November, 1988 (CD first release: 1989) Executive Producer: Günther Breest; Producer: Michael Glotz; Balance Engineer: Günther Hermanns This recording of Bruckner's 8th Symphony has been considered *hors concours* since its initial release as a 2-CD set back in 1989. It has remained in the catalog as a full-price set until recently, deleted only to make way for this reissue in DG's Originals series. This time around, the entire symphony is contained on a single CD, which times out at 82'58". It has been processed through DG's usual "Original Image Bit Processing." I played the end minutes of the disc on my older Technics CD deck and it had no problem tracking the extended play length. I gave the entire disc a straight-through listen, following along with my Breitkopf & Härtel study score of the Haas version (later references to the score in this review refer to the B&H study score). I then went back and did a few A-B comparisons of the new Originals issue to the 2-CD set that was released in 1989. Here's the review: Overall, it sounds like the engineers have opted for a less-close perspective than they did in 1989. There's a good deal more air around the sound than there was in 89, more like you're a few rows back in the orchestra section of the hall, rather than being on the podium. I think this is an improvement in many respects. The violins and trumpets gain enormously - their timbres are much more natural this time around. The horns and oboes, however, seemed to have less presence than before. In fact, they are a bit recessed in the sound stage compared to 1989. The bass line has been brought into better focus. Perhaps tighter focus is more descriptive. This has the advantage of firming up the bass line throughout the recording, but it's at the expense of a certain haziness that added a sense of warmth to the recording in 1989. I would say that compared to 1989, the new Originals version presents a more-analytical sound stage. This is great for hearing inner voices in the strings and winds, but the clarity coupled with the "seat in the hall perspective" compromises some of the mystery and timelessness that this recording has always evoked for me. As a musician, I think that's a plus in most respects. Others may disagree. Comparing the two issues, I can now detect some subtle and not-so-subtle knob twisting and tweaking that was done in 1989. For instance, one bar before rehearsal "S" (bar 330) in the first movement, the 2nd fiddles and violas have a little interchange that stands out in the 1989 version. It comes as one of those points where K stops to smell the roses, as it were, and that comes off as a nuanced highlight to the listener. In the new Originals version, the notes are there, but the moment passes without that little goose it had in 1989. One could miss it if one wasn't keyed into the small notes under the big phrases. I think the engineering in 1989 better set up the new phrase that begins at letter "S". Many of Karajan's recordings feature intense string playing that often tests the envelope, pushing up against the seams of the sound of a recording, as it were. This is especially true in the 3rd and 4th movements of the Bruckner 8th. But that doesn't happen in the Originals version, where these string licks are handily accommodated by the more-open sound stage. The effect is of an orchestra playing with a fulsome sound, but without that nth degree of intensity that sends it over the top. It sounds more like the way a real orchestra sounds in the hall, but it has me wondering if that's what K actually wanted in this *recording.* That intense, hard-to-contain sound on the 1989 version has a certain drama to it that isn't there in the new version. I mentioned that the bass line is now firmer and more focused. It's a narrower sound than the 1989 version. This does clarify the pitch in the double basses and celli. The timpani sounds more like the sound K drew from his Berlin player than what I'm used to from Vienna, which is to say the sound is tighter and cleaner. It's a bit startling to put the new version up against the 1989 version in this respect. It sounds to me as if this time around, the engineers decided on a general perspective and a philosophy that said to leave well enough alone, setting certain technical parameters for the remaster and letting the chips fall where they may when it comes to balances and nuances that were (to my ears) given a little "help" back in 1989. I think it helps in that the recording sounds more natural. The question is, does it sound so natural as to sound commonplace? Is it really what Karajan wanted to leave as a legacy? Or is it not what he wanted, but a more-faithful representation of what was set down in the studio (and by "studio," I mean that this recording appears to be based on live performances with a few touch up sessions sans audience at a later date)? The truth is that some of the "mystery" that has attached itself to K's music making and this recording in particular has been jettisoned to make way for a more analytical perspective that may or may not be to everyone's liking. I've always felt that the sound in the Finale of this recording got a bit congested in 1989. No chance of that here in Originals land, what with the added air and the more-distant perspective. The trumpets absolutely peal forth with a wide-open sound in the finale that is extremely convincing and exciting. There is plenty of "head room" to accommodate the sound of the brass in this remastering. I first noticed this in the second movement, which in 1989 had the trumpets (and horns) sort of off in their own perspective. Here, they are integrated into the picture while soaring above the band when needed. In fact, the recording is now balanced to sound the way one would expect to hear it in a concert hall, which is to say that oboes, clarinets and horns are sometimes going to get swamped in orchestral tuttis. Also, the brass have now been placed to sound across the perspective of the sound stage, which is a big improvement over the 1989 issue, where their sound seemed to be localized in the left channel of the stereo picture. I'd say the new Originals version is a good recommendation for those who don't already own this recording. However, the 1989 version has more mystery, and perhaps more closely represents what Karajan wished to leave to posterity (the recording was issued after his death in 1989...hard to know how much direct impact he had on the final mix). If nothing else, this issue raises an interesting question about choices that Karajan made about the mix of his recordings when he was alive. I don't know how much of the differences in the Originals version can be put down to advance in technologies or the choices of the engineers who didn't have K standing over them as they went about their business this time around, but I find myself liking the choices they have made, if for no other reason than the fact that the orchestra just sounds more like a real orchestra than it did in 1989. For some, that may translate as being more earthbound in the new Originals version. In any case, worth a listen, and even a purchase. At midprice (ie: less than half the price of the 2-CD version), it's sort of a no-brainer. I would add that at this point it would hardly seem worth the time and effort (and cost) to track down the 2-CD version. Overall, this reissue beats that version hands down, IMHO." Report Abuse
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