The Eighth is a return by the mild-mannered Austrian composer to a monumental block-buster of a work, which he had done in his Sixth and Seventh Symphonies. There are disputes among Brucknerites among three different editions of the score. Haitink feels the 1939 edition of Haas is to be preferred. It is the longest of all, and requires – in this live recording made last year in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam – the addition of a second disc to handle the six minutes excess time over the 80-minute limit on SACDs. (Of course, with the almost half-hour-length movements found in most Bruckner symphonies one wouldn’t want to have a break in the middle of a movement either.) Hugo Wolf wrote of the Eighth: “This symphony is the creation of a Titan and surpasses all other symphonies by the composer in its spiritual dimensions, originality and greatness.” (There. That takes care of my analyzing the music.)
My favorite of Bruckner interpretations on modern CDs had been the series conducted by Günter Wand on RCA. Dramatic as they are (also mostly live recordings), the sonics sound squashed, opaque, smeared and two-dimentional next to the glorious widely-staged surround on the RCO SACDs. It clearly puts the listener into the audience in the Concertgebouw and offers some proof for those of us who have never been there, as to why this space is regarded as close to or at the top of venues around the world acoustically. There is also the complete set of the Bruckner Symphonies with Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips CDs. Unfortunately most of them also sound much more thin and opaque than the RCA Wand series. Haitink was named conductor laureate in l999, and shares a long connection with the orchestra, having been its chief conductor from l959 to 1988. The perfect rapport of conductor, musicians, music and venue – not to mention the skills of the Polyhymnia International engineers and equipment in capturing the live performance direct to DSD – result in a magnificent listening experience with this highly recommended album.
– John Sunier