Riccardo Muti prioritizes beauty of sound over all else in this performance, with the result that you pay far more attention to the orchestral playing than to Bruckner’s music. Muti lavishes special care on the woodwinds, revealing much inner detail not usually heard (which is quite welcome). And he does give Bruckner’s huge pauses their full due, heightening the dramatic effect.
However, Muti’s very legato style (the arresting timpani thwack in the opening grand tutti notwithstanding), with soft attacks and rounded endings, makes the symphony sound like the meditation of an old man who has accepted his approaching end rather than the angry defiance of death you hear in Wand’s and Jochum’s last recordings. The Scherzo hasRead more sufficient energy at Muti’s well-chosen tempo, but lacks ferocity. It follows that the most moving moment in Muti’s performance comes in the Adagio’s coda, here rendered with a beguiling serenity.
Guilini’s Chicago recording makes it immediately clear what’s missing in Muti’s: the Chicago brass section resounds with its famed richness and power. And you can clearly hear the trumpets, unlike in the Muti, where they are barely audible in the first-movement coda, and practically inaudible in much of the scherzo. Also, despite his slower tempos, Giulini’s incisive conducting generates greater impact, especially in the Adagio’s great climax, realistically captured in EMI’s nearly 40-year-old stereo/quadrophonic production, which sounds better than CSO Resounds’ rather acoustically dry live recording.
In sum, this is a very beautifully played, Tristan-esque Bruckner Ninth. But, if you want a compelling Bruckner Ninth, Wand (his last RCA recording with the NDRSO), Harnoncourt/Vienna, and the Jochum/Dresden are just three of the excellent recordings available. Chicago Symphony fans would do better with Giulini or Barenboim.