Bruckner
Symphony No.8 in C minor

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Zubin Mehta

1890 version ed. Nowak

Recorded 1987 (?) at Alte Oper, Frankfurt

ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 298

88 minutes

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Pierre Boulez

1890 version ed. Haas

Recorded September 1996,
St Florian, Austria

TDK DV-VPOBR

95 minutes
CD No: ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 298
Duration:
Reviewed: September 2002
Of these two Bruckner 8s, Mehta’s from Frankfurt’s Alte Oper (presumably from 1987, the film’s copyright date) can be summarily dismissed. The performance is efficient rather than inspired with no real claims to DVD status. It’s the sound that disappoints – somewhat muddy, shallow and coarse, and at questionable pitch. Worse, there is more than a suspicion of no-noise mastering with all the degradation of sound that goes with it. Quite why supposedly professional transfer engineers cannot hear the faults this process engenders defeats me.
Pierre Boulez’s VPO account was given in St Florian in September 1996 just before the centenary of the composer’s death on 11 October. Following an outside shot of St Florian, Bruckner’s spiritual home (he studied, played the organ and is buried there), we are ascended to the church’s ceiling and to the emergence of the symphony’s enigmatic opening bars. There’s an accompanying 15-minute documentary, “My Eighth is a Mystery”, that includes an interview with Boulez (speaking German as fluently as he does English; subtitles available).
The low-level sound, when given a volume and bass boost, is excellent, with not too much of St Florian’s echo – although perhaps there should be for authenticity? As on DG 459 678-2, the CD counterpart to this film, Boulez’s structural and timbral clarity, and well-judged tempi, pay huge dividends, especially in the slow movement and Finale. It would be easy to underestimate Boulez’s achievement because it is unsensational. It is deeply considered, the havens of peace that intercede the first movement are given full value. No doubt some will find it cool but that is to be ignorant of long-term values and the sheer scope of the work, which Boulez has a patent grasp of. There’s no spurious ritardando on the final bar of the first movement; the clock stops and does so here to a visual background of skulls.
Boulez feels the music very deeply. When St Florian’s reverberation is perceived it is as an integral part of Bruckner’s sound-continuum, as Boulez notes in the interview. The VPO is steeped in this music of course and is wholly responsive to Boulez’s brand of direction and focus. The final trick, given this is a DVD, is not to listen with your eyes.

 

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