Recorded live between 14-20 August 2002 in the Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg
CD No: RCA RED SEAL 82876 54332 2 (2 CDs/SACDs) Duration: 2 hours 11 minutes Reviewed: October 2003
Harnoncourt Bruckner 9 Workshop and Performance
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
A neat idea persuasively carried through. The first CD is a workshop; the sketches and fully composed parts that Bruckner left for the ultimately unfinished finale of his Ninth Symphony are introduced and commented on by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and played by the Vienna Philharmonic. The presentation is in both German and English. Like a Stone from the Moon, as Harnoncourts lecture is titled, doesnt concern itself with any of the subsequent performing versions of the finale, but rather allows us to hear what Bruckner left and how he left it. As Harnoncourt says, there are probably more sections to find, in the possession of Bruckner souvenir hunters.
The performance of Bruckners three completed movements that occupies the second CD is superb, wonderfully gripping as expression and architecture. As ever, Harnoncourt finds details in the score seldom heard; here pertinently clarified. This is the first recording of the New Critical Edition. Superbly played and recorded, Harnoncourts account is dramatic, alive and gives full vent to Bruckners visionary music. The Scherzo is fierce, the Trio a perfect corollary in terms of impishness and tempo.
The outer movements are massive without being ponderous. The first has one or two moments of surprising deliberation that suspend rather than delay inevitability. The closing slow movement is dignified if not without volatility or, indeed, a leap of faith, with some unaccustomed tempo relationships that immediately convince.
Harnoncourts attention to detail, his use of antiphonal violins, and his appreciation of Bruckners individuality adds up to an impressive account of this remarkable symphony, one with the strongest claims on the Bruckner collector. (His Bruckner to date, for Teldec, with the exception of a flowing Symphony No.7, has been somewhat disappointing.) Bruckners finale pages have been recorded before, albeit not so comprehensively, and there are already several recordings of the various attempts to complete the finale, save that Harnoncourts spoken insights add to the process.
Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, the editor of the critical new edition of Bruckners Ninth in its four-movement version, writes a detailed and infallible note. The Bruckner enthusiast really doesnt need a recommendation; in general terms, however, Harnoncourts account of the three movements stands with the best of recorded versions.