BRUCKNER: Sym. No. 9 arr. for 2 Pianos & Mass No. 3 – HDTT audio-only Blu-rays

Two newly-recorded Bruckner items in hi-res surround on Blu-ray.

ANTON BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in d arr. for Two Pianos  – Till Alexander Korber & Reinhold Puri-Jobi, pianos – HDTT 4-channel 24/192 (2015) DTS-HD MA audio-only Blu-ray ****:

ANTON BRUCKNER: Mass No. 3 in f – Cynthia Clayton sop./ Melanie Sonnenberg, mezzo/ Joseph Evans, tenor/ Timothy Jones, bass-bari./ Sigurd Ogaard, pipe organ/Houston Sym. Chorus/Moores School Sym./ Franz Anton Krager – HDTT 5-channel 24/96 DTS-HD MA audio-only Blu-ray, TT: 1:18:43 ****:

Considering the orchestral impact of most of the Bruckner symphonies, to reduce the immense sonics, including major crescendos, of the full orchestra to just two pianos in an arrangement seems a bit unneeded. However, this live public concert (just recorded by John Proffitt last year at Stift St. Florian in Austria) by the two pianists does stress the clarity of Bruckner’s themes and counter-themes and shows that he really poured everything he had into his Ninth Symphony – which he worked on up to and including the day of his death.

A German author and critic, Karl Grunsky (who died in 1943) transcribed all nine of Bruckner’s great symphonies for two pianos, and this is the last of them. This was the main opportunity for people to hear various orchestral works prior to the ascendence of good recordings. Most transcriptions were for just one piano, but this series used two to encompass the tremendous power of Bruckner’s symphonies. Some composers even started work on a new composition as a piano score, and later orchestrated it for full symphony. But that is not Bruckner’s case.

The fourth movement of the Symphony No. 9 was left unfinished by the composer, and has been the subject of much reconstruction by various arrangers and composers. The one the pianists follow in this four-movement performance is felt to be as close as humanly possible to what the composer intended in the first place. By the way, there’s a complete performance of the orchestral Symphony No. 9 on YouTube conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

Unlike many two-piano commercial recordings, John Proffitt has miced the two pianos separately, and without a center channel the sonic separation of the two instruments is much more evident and enjoyable. The slight bit of ambience from the surround channels adds to the realism of the two piano sonics.

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Neither of these somewhat lesser Bruckner items in SOTA sonics on Blu-ray are not duplicating any previous items in collections. The Mass No. 3 is probably too robust for most church services and takes its place with the Verdi Requiem and Beethoven Miss Solemnis as a large choral-symphonic sacred work for concert halls. It has a chorus of 150 and an orchestra of 80, and concert hall performances of such a work have become common. It dates from 1867 & ’68.

This recording has an orchestral “Symphonisches Praeludium” which is attributed to Bruckner and whether he actually wrote it or not provides a welcome introduction to the Mass. A different conductor handles this piece. There is also doubt among musicologists as to whether Bruckner wrote this entire work or not. As the 19th track on the Blu-ray, there is an organ improvisation, “Postludium,” sort of similar to that near the end of the Janacek Glagolitic Mass. For a composer of many towering strictly orchestral works, Bruckner certainly had a talent as a crafter or melodies and sound painter with words. It is felt that he should have composed more songs and lieder.

The recording was made by John Proffitt in Houston in 2013, in Grace Presbyterian Church. There are many more sections to this work than to many masses, though some are just a bit over one minute length. Sonics and balances with the soloists are perfect.

—John Sunier

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