Scribendum SC 020, 78:57 (Distrib. Silver Oak) ****:
Recorded in Moscow 1981, this reading of the Bruckner Eighth with Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) confirms the tradition of mass and sonic breadth which the Russians bring to the scores of Bruckner, a tradition gleaned by Mravinsky, who likely took it from the Germans Oskar Fried and Hermann Abendroth. The aural presence of individual instruments – the horns, tubas, and contrabassoon – make a shattering, “live” impression. Svetlanov breathes the long, periodic phrases, the often monotonous treble and bass ostinato riffs, without inducing soporific powers over us. The beginning of the development section of the Allegro moderato is mighty indeed. The staggered, seven-note chorale theme, accompanied by wicked tremolandi, fills your acoustic space in all but surround sound. The lower strings buzz while the woodwinds weave chromatic curlicues into the ether. Hold onto your hat for the monumental progression to the coda, the horns and tympani ringing their own version of Gotterdammerung.
The deft attacks in strings and horns, duple versus triple meters, quiver with cosmic tension for the Scherzo. More earthy than Furtwaengler’s famed 1949 reading, the realization by Svetlanov has girth and terrific momentum. A singing, elastic line marks the string and woodwind legato theme and its sequences over a pedal bass. The laendler trio, with its melos over a pizzicato bass, is natural hymnody, with nice horn triplets and exalted string intonation. The harp comes out of heaven, shades of the Czech bard Lumir via Smetana. (Is there an extant Ma Vlast with Svetlanov?) Da capo to the fevered Scherzo motto. If you made me guess, I might venture Karajan were conducting a Berlin Philharmonic. The spiritual core of the symphony, the massive Adagio, pulsates with devotion, achieving a cathedral’s spires of sound equal to anything Furtwaengler or Knappertsbusch have yielded in spatial energy. Transitions from winds, to horn, to strings, in a series of graduated crescendi, emerge in fine detail, Svetlanov’s taking great pains to illumine the orchestral texture. When the trumpets, horns and tubas open up, Bruckner manages to insinuate himself into Valhalla, topped by the harps. The monolithic Finale rises out of glacial ice, and the fast sections might suggest liberated mastodons. That Svetlanov can maintain dramatic tension throughout the periodic meanderings of the symphonic tissue is a testament to his ability to impose rigorous discipline on his players, a controlled series of religious spasms, which for Bruckner, mark his idiosyncratic spirituality. Bruckner acolytes need to include Svetlanov’s account among their most cherished versions of the Eighth Symphony.