BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (First Version, 1887) – Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Simone Young – Oehms Classics

by | Mar 3, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (First Version, 1887) – Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Simone Young – Oehms Classics multichannel SACD OC-638 (2 CDs), 30:45, 51:56 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

The name Simone Young may not be as widely known to audience here in the West as compared to those in Europe, or, as those from her home city of Sydney, Australia.  Ms. Young is currently the General Manager of the Hamburg State Opera and Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2008, she collaborates with the former to start in a brand new production of Wagner’s Ring, and this partnership will grow with their exploration together in the operatic repertoire of Donizetti, Puccini and Strauss, to name a few.

In addition to her operatic engagements, Ms. Young also commits herself actively in the orchestral repertoire. She has garnered an international reputation, particularly in the works of Brahms and Bruckner. The classical world is very fortunate in that Ms. Young is a prolific recording artist. With the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra, she has under her wings a growing catalogue of recordings with Oehms Classics. This includes Hindemith and Wagner, and will include a complete set of Brahms Four Symphonies due for release.

The present recording, a live performance taken from the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg during December 15-16th 2008, continues her exploration in the Bruckner cycle that began with the recordings in the original versions of the Second, the Third and the Fourth Symphonies. Here, in this performance of the Eighth, Ms. Young and her Hamburg musicians continue their exploration together in Bruckner’s “original intention in a fundamental sense,” as Michael Lewin noted in his liner notes. The interpretation here provides a genuine outlook in the original concepts and instrumentation of this oeuvre. Compared to its alternate versions, most notably with the 1892 version and Haas edition, this 1887 (first) version arguably delivers Bruckner’s most beautiful passages written for the symphonic genre in a most genuine representation.

So, what are the differences between this 1887 first version and those that subsequently appeared? Mr Lewin’s writing goes through extensive analysis probing into the details. Rather than regurgitating these details, some of the noteworthy differences include: the triumphant C Major triple-forte that ends the first movement; the assignment in instrumentation employed in the first three movements. On the latter, a tripartite of trombones, trumpets and Wagner tubas that provides a austere tonality leading to the climax of the second movement is modified to triple woodwinds and eight horns in later versions.  Keeping in faith with the thematic material represented by this first version, Ms. Young stands out both strong and attentive in her interpretation – clearly demonstrating her understanding to the macro- and micro-differences between the contrasting versions. By ear, she leads her musicians to generate a gigantic edifice of beauty, conviction and originality.

In the Scherzo and Trio second movement – although the score in the present version may not have all the later improvements necessary to generate a smooth and reassuring flow in character, Ms. Young nevertheless communicates amenably with her musicians to sing musically in a homogenous voice that is sufficient in fulfilling a dramatic character. The Adagio, a movement interspersed with themes in a A-B-A2-B2-A3 configuration, captures a harmonic synchrony and clarity from the musicians.  It coincides with a character that fits with the original framework of Bruckner in this original version, but this is sadly sacrificed in later versions of this work as a result of the deletion of 10 bars in the A2 part. Most impressive to this author comes in the Finale, where bars of music erupt from the pages like a turbulent wave of musical ideas emitted by Ms. Young and her musicians. They present music with a full soundscape of colors but balance that unfolds expansively, trespassing from one mountainous theme to the next.

Performance aside, there are some flaws that need to be attended by the proof-readers at Oehms Classics.  There are noticeable typing errors throughout the booklet (example, top of p. 22, `taht`), but most unforgivably, this present recording represents the first version of 1887, not 1878, as printed elsewhere on this recording (example, p. 2 of liner notes). Recording engineers Jens Schünemann and Christian Feldgen have done marvels to capture the full ambience and natural comfort of the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg. Compared to other recordings of this first version of the Bruckner Eighth, notably to the interpretations of Eliahu Inbal (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra) and Georg Tintner (National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland), this performance from Simone Young and the Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra outweighs their peers by both interpretation and recording excellence.

— Patrick P.L. Lam

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