BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E – BBC Scottish Symphony Orch./ Donald Runnicles – Hyperion CDA67916, 60:02 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
For Bruckner, the composition of his Seventh Symphony proved something of a watershed; after years of enjoying modest success—and practically none with the Viennese public and critics—he emerged with a new sense of faith (which had been severely tried due to his failed romantic attempts and consistently-maligned symphonic efforts) and a new feeling of resolve. Hadn’t the opening melody of the first movement occurred to him in a dream after all? For Bruckner, what could be more telling? And it is one of the most-heaven-sent inspirations in the entire Brucknerian oeuvre. But the heart of the work is not really the perfectly resolved finale of the exquisitely-fleet scherzo. No, Bruckner’s essential tribute to Wagner in the Adagio movement is what nails down the emotional center of the piece, and any performance worth its salt must succeed here or be consigned to the remainder bins. To my mind this includes the controversial cymbal crash with percussion at the climax. I won’t go into all of the confusion and controversy surrounding this particular musical conundrum—suffice it to say that the conclusions in either direction will remain highly speculative—but the fact that the Eighth Symphony uses them, and those are not controversial, shows that the composer was hardly against such things on principle. But there are exceptions; Bruno Walter’s glorious and expansive account on Sony omits them, but his Adagio is so highly charged and intense that we are prone to forgive him. On this recording Donald Runnicles has chosen, wisely, to include it.
This is the first time since the Atlanta Symphony was dumped from its Telarc contract that Runnicles has appeared on another label, his first recording for Hyperion. After having heard him in multiple Bruckner symphonies with the ASO over the years I am thrilled that Hyperion has taken up the cause and hope that they will continue a complete Bruckner symphony series. Though one does wish that SACD had been used here—what a waste!—Hyperion still provides excellent sound, spacious and quite enthralling in its coverage of the soaring BBCSSO strings and the deep and resonant brass—they play superbly here. Interpretatively this one is among the best, Runnicles having proven himself long ago in the Bruckner and Wagner worlds as a man with capable understanding of both, and avails himself of that knowledge to give us a reading of perception, flow, and above all, beautiful melodic line. This is a simple recommendation, and while the Walter, Karajan, and Chailly recordings are still necessary for a complete understanding of this music, Runnicles tosses his own hat into the ring with this release, a most auspicious beginning and a fresh interpretative Brucknerian voice.