BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor – Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam/ Eduard van Beinum – Pristine Audio PASC 683 (59:05) [www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Andrew Rose and Pristine restore the 1956 performance of Bruckner’s 1894 Ninth Symphony (ed. Leopold Nowak) that appeared on monaural Epic LP by Eduard van Beinum (issued on a Philips CD in 1977) and his responsive Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. The reading, appearing just prior to the stereo era of recording, never attained is due prominence, given the warm and sympathetic adjustments the conductor makes to bring the colossal edifice to a firm and majestic resolution. The Ambient Stereo XR remastering from Pristine affords the performance a palpable glow, the resonant, “cathedral” depth the composer sought in his own struggles with mortality and divine inspiration.
Eduard van Beinum (1900-1959), though a protégé in Amsterdam of the more flamboyant and eccentric Willem Mengelberg, eschewed the blatantly self-serving, Romantic style of that conductor and found a polished literalism that did not diminish the intensity and warmth of his interpretations. The sheer volume of sound that Bruckner demands places stresses upon the string and brass choirs, while the sonata form itself is stretched to new limits in Bruckner’s late symphonies. The course of development is based on huge thematic groups in periods, a procedure both the composer Brahms and the critic Edward Hanslick detested, given that Bruckner’s aims often dwelt within the autobiographical context of his affections, respectively, for God and Wagner.
Beinum guides the D Minor first movement, Feierlich, misterioso, with a steady hand, fashioning the move to the first climax gradually, relishing the tensions in harmony and spatial consciousness that finds ephemeral rests in huge pedal points, particularly in E-flat Major. For the majority of hard-core Bruckner enthusiasts, the model of perfection lies in the extraordinary, tragic vision achieved by Wilhelm Furtwaengler of 7 October 1944, Berlin. Allowing that Furtwaengler performed under the most dire of human conditions in Germany, Beinum has no less reverence for Bruckner’s transitions and inner-voice sonorities, though his concept seems more intent on monumental beauty and loftiness of expression than “pure” mysticism or spiritual atonement. The music flows in perpetual flux, key centers in accumulation and decay, sometimes in grinding dissonances; and the challenge to find a fluid continuity Beinum thoroughly achieves with a remarkable clarity. The coda, with its open fifths, enjoys a Herculean resolve. If God is immanent in this movement, the sense of Divine Presence emanates the power, if not the terror, of the Infinite.
The tense second movement, Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft; Trio: Schnell, is set in D Minor, though its harmonic origins point to C# Minor. The music emanates a ghostly veil of sound over pizzicati, at least at first; then, the music storms and thunders in potent, martial outburst. The Trio, too, has an eerie quality, a combination of laendler and haunted elegy. Beinum quite whips his string and brass choirs into a controlled. stinging frenzy, a driving juggernaut of harmonic disruption, especially as the A Major tonality splits into its nearby relations in G# and B-flat. Tympani, oboe, and horns collaborate but cannot halt the demonic assault. Has Satan been unleashed? Or has Bruckner summoned the dark forces of Nature in a pantheistic revelation of primal energies? The softer moments of the F# Major Trio section echo the sounds of the forest, but the lyric falters metrically, and the winds and pizzicato strings over a pedal announce the resumption of Byronic, tectonic impulses. One period of cataclysm simply prevails upon another, relentless as Time or Fate themselves.
There are visionary aspects to the E Major Adagio movement, not the least its incorporating all twelve tones of the chromatic scale in its journey to the “Dresden Amen.” Along with the allusions to Wagner’s Parsifal, the leap of a ninth proves emblematic for the evolution of this huge architecture that unfolds in the major periods. A trumpet tune in a pentatonic mode unfurls a brooding theme in the strings, a chorale the composer designated his “farewell to life,” a sentiment in much kinship with the contemporary Mahler. Despite the rich sonority of strings and Wagner tubas, a sense of bleak mortality emerges, extended by periods of harmonic uncertainty. The “Dresden Amen” signifies – what? The flute yields to dire blasts from the Concertgebouw brass, played with a tonal purity that becomes frightful.
Some immense portal has opened, some lingering veil cast aside, and we become privy to a moment of revelation that explodes and retreats, leaving us with some consolation in Nature or simple faith. The entire, latter third of the movement, after 15:30, seems an extended appeal to transcend the finite, to shed all earthly claims. The desire for spiritual liberation, even if not successful, means everything. If we cannot achieve transcendence, we can revel and suffer intensely. But this thought belongs perhaps more to Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater than to Bruckner, whose doubts evolve from insistent belief rather than from skepticism or aesthetic compromise. At any rate, Beinum’s interpretation, like Mitropoulos’ visions of Mahler, begs important issues that comprehend Mankind, which Mankind cannot comprehend.
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