This is one of the swifter Bruckner 7s, taking a nicely rounded 60 minutes, Donald Runnicles at every turn suggesting that he has things just-so, the music flowing without rush into a satisfying whole. Beautifully recorded, with ideal space and clarity, and a wide dynamic range, and capturing well the all-important use of antiphonal violins, Runnicles and his BBC Scottish musicians give a cleanly detailed, closely observed and clearly routed account of one of Bruckner’s most popular pieces.
But, what edition do we have? With the contentious cymbal clash capping the slow movement's climax it would be easy to say that it is Leopold Nowak’s and leave it at that. However, Robert Haas’s publication has fewer tempo changes in the first movement than does Nowak’s; and Runnicles gives a particularly unified reading of it. So, like Celibidache and Karajan, to name but two examples, Runnicles could be employing Haas but adding the cymbal clash (Haas is without any percussion at this point of the Adagio, rejecting what are taken to be amendments not made by the composer, if possibly agreed to by him), save the brass would be too loud (it is anyway, at times) for Haas’s scaled-down dynamics. Very simply, Hyperion’s booklet note and/or annotation should have clarified this point.
Yet, what might seem pedantic observations on the part of your reviewer could mask the simple truth that in many ways this is a glorious, honest and convincing performance, rather typical in fact of Runnicles’s splendid work with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, its musicians responding with dedication to their Chief Conductor. The first movement is wholesome but not without subtle flexibility, the first appearance of timpani, around the 17-minute mark, producing a moment of frisson and a thrilling crescendo. If the Adagio is here the antithesis of sentimentality and a momentous funeral cortege, then Runnicles has its shape and the episodes within down to a tee; it’s only after the climax (with those cymbals, unfortunately!) that we fully realise this creation is a memorial to Bruckner’s hero Richard Wagner, who died during the music’s composition; in the final few minutes Runnicles (playing the long game to advantage) and his players find an infinite sadness.
The scherzo certainly has legs, an exhilarating affair vividly detailed, the trio languishing but not at the expense of a relationship with the outer sections. The finale is also direct if not undeviating for there is some well-timed broadening when needed, the music’s wit and grandeur counterbalanced ideally in a rendition of stealth, expressive asides and culminating splendour to complete a well-proportioned, living, breathing and noble conception that takes a refreshing look at what can be made to seem an interminable beast (and is not dissimilar to Michael Gielen’s athletic recorded view); Runnicles takes Bruckner 7 for an enlivening canter without sacrificing dignity or emotion.