ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 – Beethoven Orch. Bonn/ Stefan Blunier – MD&G (2)

by | Feb 6, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C minor WAB 108 (Version 1890) – Beethoven Orchester Bonn/ Stefan Blunier – Musikproduktion Dabringhaus & Grimm MD&G multichannel SACD 937 1713-6 (2 discs), TT: 88:30 [Distr. by E1] ****:
Swiss conductor Stefan Blunier with the Beethoven Orchester Bonn have tackled one of the great monuments of the Romantic musical era in a convincingly monumental fashion. In this new, live recording, the performance is of the second version of the symphony (1890). Either you like Anton Bruckner’s music or you don’t. I do.
This sublime work, the last symphony Bruckner finished, is a crowning achievement, lofty in aspiration and spiritually moving, not to say that his incomplete Ninth is not on the same plane.
German music historian H.H. Stuckenschmidt points out in his book Twentieth Century Music, “In a purely musical sphere, the nine symphonies of Bruckner are  …(an) expression of cosmic and cyclic thought and creation. Indeed, in Bruckner the principle of variation can be seen on a gigantically-expanded scale.”
Following in the symphonic footsteps of Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, Bruckner’s musical journey unfolds like a majestic landscape of the actual and of the imagined. It is beautiful, devout, unearthly, scary, awe-inspiring and full of a grandeur vast and magnificent. Blunier and the Beethoven Orchester capture these episodes in a convincing manner.
Benjamin Cohrs, who has successfully worked with others on finishing the unfinished final movement of the Bruckner Ninth, points out there are 19 Bruckner symphonies, if you take Bruckner’s first and his revised versions as separate works.
Then there are the various editors’ versions. In the case of the Eighth, there are two versions by Bruckner. The first of 1887 was rejected by conductor Herman Levi. This sent Bruckner into a tailspin, but he did not give up and produced the revised version of 1890.
Austrian musicologist Robert Haas, who was working for the International Bruckner Society to prepare proper editions of the composer’s works, published in 1939 a mix of the 1887 and 1890 versions. Haas’ successor Leopold Nowak edited the 1890 version and published it in 1955. This is what Blunier presumably has used in this recording.
Later Nowak edited the first 1887 version in 1972. There is an 1892 version by Bruckner and Joseph Schalk which has been discredited by some because of Schalk’s excessive influence in terms of cuts and re-orchestration. Of three great Bruckner conductors, Karajan and Wand prefer the Haas conflation of 1887/1890 and Jochum the Nowak edition of the revised 1890 version.
Blunier’s tempos strike a middle ground with a total timing of 88 minutes. I mention this matter of speed, because Bruckner’s symphonies can become intolerable to sit through when dragged out. Celibidache on EMI slogs along, totaling 104 minutes. Koussevitsky in a well-pruned 1892 Schalk version clocks in at 50 minutes.
The sound of this recording is very good, but not in-your-face spectacular in its SACD surround sound reproduction. The orchestra has plenty of body and is realistic sounding. There is great depth for the brass and timpani, but the sense of space for the front instruments is elusive.
MD&G records use what they call a true three dimensional system: 2+2+2. This was not auditioned (due to difficulty setting up the additional speakers). [We have reviewed many of the 2+2+2 releases and will cover more soon…Ed.]
—Zan Furtwangler

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