BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Karl Boehm – Pristine Audio

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Karl Boehm – Pristine Audio PASC 435, 67:19 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****: 

This 4-5 June 1943 performance of the Bruckner Seventh Symphony with Karl Boehm (1894-1981) occurs at the same time the conductor had assumed the top post with the Vienna State Opera, and it generates a particularly electric energy quite remarkable. Record producer and remastering engineer Andrew Rose provides a succinct etiology of the recording history:

“This recording, made over two days but apparently live, [is likely] in two halves for broadcast. It has appeared on a number of labels in various states of distress over the years – mislabeling has been rife, the third and fourth movements have been transposed by a semitone, and sound quality has ranged from the barely adequate to the abysmal.

This release aims to correct that, as much as is possible. Pitch issues have finally been conquered using Capstan software to correct some quite significant drifting down towards the ends of what I can only assume were reels of German tape, a technology still in its infancy but widely used in Nazi Germany at a time when it didn’t exist elsewhere: the final four minutes of the first movement, for example, sees a gradual fall of almost a complete semitone.”

The astonishing fidelity of the restored performance, augmented in ambient stereophonic sound, literally takes our collective breath away. Boehm’s pacing of the first movement Allegro moderato remains quite brisk, the expansive melody immediately supported by resonant horn, viola, and clarinet. The arch formed by the evolving tonalities in E Major, B Minor, and B Major shimmer with a fervor we would ascribe to Toscanini or youthful Karajan. The great C-sharp Minor Adagio assumes the solemn (tuba-based) tones of Wagner’s Ring cycle, while at the same time the ensuing strings allude to Bruckner’s own Te Deum, offered in the spirit of a funeral dirge for Wagner’s passing on 13 February 1883.

The galloping A Minor Scherzo achieves a fluid brass and string momentum as thrilling as any potent realization of the Ride of the Valkyries. The essential rusticity of the occasion carries us into the pastoral middle section undergirded by a decisive tympanic ostinato. Boehm maintains throughout a clear sense of Bruckner’s penchant for chorale motifs, his pantheistic character, espessivo and religioso. Despite the eventual movement to the E Major colossi Bruckner wishes for an apotheosis, the Finale displays a festive, playful lyricism from an incensed Boehm we do not often attribute to Bruckner’s stern counterpoints and rhetorical periods. Quite a potent ride, and I highly recommend this excellent fidelity restoration!

—Gary Lemco

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