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The Great Symphonies -- Anton Bruckner
Submitted by Jason Quintana on Mon, 2006-04-24 19:41
Anton Bruckner was a strange figure in late 19th century music. In stark contrast to the other great composers of his time who were cosmopolitan city dwellers, Bruckner came from a modest small town German background. His biggest influences were Richard Wagner and Franz Schubert, and while these influences can be detected Bruckner’s symphonic music is so original that one cannot find any close comparisons to it among his contemporaries. He was a deeply superstitious and religious man and using these inspirations and his immense talent he succeeded in creating grand symphonic cathedrals. While I don’t share any of Bruckner’s superstitions his sense of grandeur greatly appeals to me. He was also a virtuoso organist who used the symphony orchestra to create bold organ like sounds.
Bruckner’s music never gained a wide audience during his own lifetime. He achieved only brief recognition late in life with his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. Indeed, it took at least fifty years for his music to become common in concert halls around the world. Part of this is due to the fact that Bruckner made several poor revisions to his own works. He even got talked into allowing other people to edit his symphonies to create “performance versions” that these “friends” believed would be more acceptable to the public. It is these sub par edited versions that were commonly performed for many years after his death. As better, more true to the original editions became the standard his music soared in popularity. In the last 30-40 years there has been a glut of new recordings of the Bruckner symphonies. Many of them are mediocre, some of them are decent and a few of them are outstanding. Here are the recordings that I think are the best, starting with Symphony #3.
Tintner / Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Naxos) If it weren’t for Tintner’s illuminating recording of the Third I probably would not include this piece in my survey of the great symphonies.
Wand / Berlin Philharmonic (RCA) If you are new to Bruckner remember the name Gunter Wand and you will always find great recordings. The playing of the Berliners and the almost orgasmic final passages cement this as the legendary recording of the Fourth. For those interested in experiencing Bruckner for the first time the Fourth is a good starting point.
Bohm / Vienna Philharmonic (Decca) Stodgy old German conductors always seem to know how to play Bruckner.
Wand / Berlin Philharmonic (RCA) Just like the previously mentioned recording of the Fourth, this one is unsurpassed. The 5th is the third greatest Bruckner symphony. (Audio Clip Attached)
Jochum / Concertgebouw (Phillips) Another of the great Bruckner conductors was Eugene Jochum. I prefer this recording of the Fifth to any of his other recordings of the Bruckner Symphonies.
Unfortunately my favorite recording of the Sixth seems to be out of the catalogue. If you find Skrowaczewski's recording of the Sixth on Arte Nova anywhere buy it. It is the best version of this piece. Likewise with his recording of the Ninth on Reference Recordings with the Minnesota Orchestra which is also missing on Amazon.
Klemperer / Philharmonia (EMI) This one is usually considered to be the standard Bruckner 6 and I agree that it is good, just not as good as Skrowaczewski.
Tintner / New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (Naxos) This pick might be a bit of a stretch – in fact there are a few very obvious orchestral flubs -- but it is rare that one gets an opportunity to mention the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. And it is a decent recording lead by a top flight Brucknerian.
Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic (EMI) Buy this instead of the newer Karajan recording with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Wand / Berlin Philharmonic (RCA) An extremely close second place.
Karajan / Vienna Philharmonic (DG) Outstanding. Ignore the anti-Karajan trolls on Amazon. They are the same types who give Atlas Shugged one star over and over again with different login names. The Eighth happens to be Bruckner’s most outstanding symphony, and this is the best recording of it.
Boulez / Vienna Philharmonic (DG) That French asshole Boulez conducting Bruckner? Yes. Close second place. Beats out Wand and Furtwangler. Excellent sound.
Symphony #9 (This was an unfinished work. Some attempts at reconstructing a fourth movement have recently been recorded. My recommended versions all end with the great adagio third movement.)
Wand / Berlin Philharmonic (RCA) Another legendary Wand recording. Recently reissued at $12. Bruckner’s second greatest symphony.
Tintner / Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Naxos) Tintner takes a smaller scale approach to this work and the result is fantastic.
Furtwangler / Berlin Philharmonic 1944 mono (Classica D'oro) Legendary NAZI radio broadcast.
Next week : The Symphonies of Gustav Mahler
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