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Bruckner: Symphony No 8; Strauss: Metamorphosen / Sinopoli

Release Date: 02/21/2008 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 447744   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Anton BrucknerRichard Strauss
Conductor:  Giuseppe Sinopoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Staatskapelle
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Sinopoli’s calibration of dynamics is amazingly exact and the realization of this by the Dresden players extraordinarily precise. There is nothing remotely self-conscious about this. It is simply a question of delivering the music as Bruckner intended it to be delivered.

""There it was – and now all the tears of rage of all the bereft millions and all the crowding curses of all the wondering ages will never bring a stone of it back!" Henry James felt about the bombardment of Rheims Cathedral in the late summer of 1914 much as Richard Strauss felt about the destruction of Dresden a little over 30 years later. Though both men expressed identical feelings, James’s remarks were necessarily less controversial.
Read more I still recall – at a time in the 1950s when as a schoolboy I was barely yet weaned off a diet of war stories, The Wooden Horse, Enemy Coast Ahead and the like – being appalled to hear announced on the wireless the performance of a piece by Richard Strauss: “a lament for the fall of Germany” (as the BBC somewhat strangely put it).

Times change, and though there still exists in our midst a virulent strain of anti-Germanism that is openly embraced in parts of the British media, that should not stop the rest of us from thinking afresh about this piece, especially when it is played with the kind of unaffected eloquence that we have here. That it should be the strings of this particular orchestra gives the whole thing an added poignancy, of course. I have long cherished Rudolf Kempe’s Dresden recording of Metamorphosen; but the new recording under Giuseppe Sinopoli is equally a thing to treasure. Here is music-making of tact and sensibility, free of all taint of bombast or saccharine self-pity, a lament sufficient unto itself that can only serve, surely, to help purify and heal.

It is not, of course, the main work in the set, but after the hosannas of Bruckner’s great peroration have died away it makes an uncommonly apt postlude. I left the CD running by mistake and Metamorphosen stole in on the silence like a gentle question (a question, I am sure, Bruckner would have been happy to be asked). If there are times for hosannas, the music seems to ask, is there not time for grieving, too? Indeed, the first three movements of the Bruckner (first disc) and Bruckner’s finale with Metamorphosen as its postlude (second disc) make curiously satisfying new ensembles in their own right.

I left the CD running partly because I was too stunned to turn it off. I will do no one any good by raising expectations to fever pitch but my immediate reaction to this new Dresden account of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony is to say that I have never heard the work more lucidly recorded, more clearly played or more exactly conducted than it is here.

Dresden’s Lukaskirche was the venue, a near-ideal place for the recording of a Bruckner symphony. And into this near-ideal space a great orchestra has been placed with scrupulous care by both conductor and engineers. Sinopoli’s is in some ways a very classical reading of the symphony; and it comes as no surprise to find that the orchestra is laid out in classical formation, the violins divided left and right. It is not just the violins, though. The entire orchestra is laid out, recorded and conducted in such a way as to provide an almost unimaginable clarity and transparency of detail in an acoustic setting that provides a wonderful sense of space and that additional quality which a work like this demands that I can best describe as a certain necessary aura. It is possible that one or two tuttis may rather glare at one on certain equipment or in too small a room (I think of the Scherzo’s clamorous end); but it did not much worry me.

If the recording is a thing to be wondered at – as though the printed page were being instantly metamorphosed into sound by some strange act of electronic alchemy – so is the orchestral playing, which is lean, clear, superbly concentrated and incredibly beautiful. The Dresden orchestra has done this before in Bruckner (one recalls Herbert Blomstedt’s Denon recording of the Seventh Symphony, 8/86 – nla) but never quite at this level of concentration over so huge a span.

In the circumstances, one might conclude that all Sinopoli needed to do was turn up and conduct. Yet I cannot help thinking that he is, in some sense, the fons et origo of the whole enterprise. The sculpted clarity of the playing gives the performance its classical feel; more so than the tempos which owe their allegiance to no one school of Bruckner conducting. The first movement is broad: 17'11'' to Giulini’s 17'00'', Karajan’s 16'53'' and Wand’s 16'46'', but Sinopoli sustains the tension here, giving the music space but holding it severely on course for the big climaxes. There is a quickish Scherzo, much brasher than the Karajan or the Giulini but very exciting in its way, framing a towering account of the Trio. The Adagio is slow but never dragging or hesitant. Listen to the superb handling of the E major interlude beginning at fig. C – 5'11'' – which again reveals Sinopoli’s Karajan-like ability to hold a slow tempo consistently and in an absolute focus. Bruckner’s “stubborn dolefulness” (Robert Simpson’s phrase) is superbly articulated.

Having the second violins on the right is of crucial importance at the start of the Adagio’s long final ascent (fig. N – 17'38'') where they carry the main melody whilst the first violins provide their own expressive descants. I have never heard this better done. As the climax approaches, Sinopoli makes a sudden beeline for the summit (he is using Nowak); but having just spent a week on the Lakeland fells I was prepared to tolerate this aberration. One does not have to follow Haas (or Wainwright); though it usually helps. The finale, some think, is best foreshortened, but Sinopoli’s reading would have served Haas’s slightly longer version wonderfully well, for once again it is the compelling logic of Sinopoli’s performance that makes every bar count in this enthralling and (if it is properly conducted) exciting musical narrative.

The final point to note about the performance is perhaps the most important. It is Sinopoli’s amazingly exact calibration of dynamics and dynamic levels and the extraordinarily precise realization of this by the Dresden players. Nor is there anything remotely self-conscious about this. It is simply a question of delivering the music as Bruckner intended it to be delivered."

-- Gramophone [11/1996]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 8 in C minor, WAB 108 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Giuseppe Sinopoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Staatskapelle
Period: Romantic 
Written: Vienna, Austria 
Metamorphosen for 23 solo Strings, AV 142 by Richard Strauss
Conductor:  Giuseppe Sinopoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Staatskapelle
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1945; Germany 

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