Another superb live recording of a Bruckner symphony performance. Several such have come our way recently, some as music videos, and this seems especially advantageous for Bruckner since his massive expansion of musical form and structure – which results in symphonies twice the size of most – needs to flow smoothly without a hint of breaks or the impetus is lost. Bruckner often works with three main themes instead of the usual two, and expands, develops and repeats each of them in many different ways. As with the Mahler symphonies, one must adjust oneself to a different sort of temporal dimension when listening to these works. One gets all intimations of impatience thrashed out of you.
Although the existence of a Mahler and Bruckner Society makes sense, it seems odd that Wagner and Bruckner are often linked. Their music and their personalities were totally different from one another. Bruckner admired Wagner as a musical god but stayed with instrumental and choral music, never attempting to integrate drama, literature and music. In fact, after seeing a performance of The Ring Cycle he asked “Why did they burn Brünnhilde?”
The 23-minute-long Adagio of the Seventh recapitulates the theme of his choral work Te Deum. But although strong religious beliefs were at the core of Bruckner’s being, and his stirring climaxes involving brass and timpani were designed to celebrate the glory of God, his métier was the grand symphonic statement as heard in the Seventh. And it can be easily appreciated on a completely secular level. The way Bruckner uses repetition always impresses me; he knows exactly how far to take it (unlike some of today’s minimalism composers) and still maintain structure and flow. The Seventh comes to us in a single version, without the controversy of which later rethinking of the symphony is the “best one” to perform. Its fourth movement is half the length of the first and second, and serves to wrap up the cyclical sense of the symphony. The very first theme from the work’s opening is stated in thrilling splendor, but not with the impact of some of the climaxes heard earlier in the symphony.
The recording was made during performance in the fine acoustics of Vienna’s famous Konzerthaus. In comparing with the Philips recording of the work conducted by Haitink I was shocked by how steely and digititus-afflicted the CD sounded, even in a more recent remastering. For a superior performance of a more standard symphony perhaps one could allow for that for a half hour or so, but to my elderly ears 68 minutes of those sonics would be punishment. And I don’t find Kreizberg’s interpretation taking second place to Haitink either. I also compared with the recent Bruckner Seventh conducted by Philippe Herreweghe on a Harmonia mundi SACD. [We reviewed it Here.] That one employs some period instruments but I felt its sounding a lighter and less meaty interpretation was more due to the French interpretation of Bruckner. After all, Bruckner wasn’t French. The PentaTone recording is natural, enveloping, and extremely pleasing to the ears. As also occurs with Mahler symphonies, the major climaxes – when all the instruments at full throttle are contributing to the high decibel level – never turns muddled or opaque with hi-res reproduction as it usually does with 44.1 PCM.
– John Sunier