Following two revelatory performances of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Claudio Abbado, this account of his Seventh from the London Philharmonic and Christoph Eschenbach was also glorious. Quite which edition was used was uncertain (the sloppy programme note did not even mention Robert Haas or Leopold Nowak, let alone Franz Schalk, Ferdinand Löwe and Arthur Nikisch, who all played a part in persuading Bruckner to change what he had written in 1883, had performed in 1884, and published by Gutmann in 1885). There was the cymbal crash, triangle, and timpani roll at the Adagio’s climax that Nowak included in his edition. But some conductors use Haas’s version and add the percussion.
The performance, although about 72 minutes, never dragged, carving out Bruckner’s awesome architecture with granite sureness, particularly the slow movement. The danger is that this music can seem episodic, yet the transitions from massive sounds to tranquillity and flowing streams were made logical, Eschenbach delighting in the contrapuntal writing. The Adagio itself had time on its side but was not indulgent. Flautist Jamie Martín’s many exposed lines were captivating, and the balance between strings and brass (especially trombones) was ideal. Secure trumpeting was a feature of the scherzo (its reprise forceful), the trio soothing. Eschenbach took a broad view of the Finale: comforting in parts, awesome elsewhere, and he weaved the movement’s many lines to a glorious coda.
To begin the concert Nicola Benedetti and Leonard Elschenbroich took part in a lacklustre performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto, which never really caught fire despite Benedetti finding colour and spark in her instrument (three hundred years old next year), Elschenbroich’s seasoned cello (320) the perfect foil to Benedetti’s incisiveness. They enjoyed each other’s company, but there was not much going on between them and the orchestra. Things improved in the finale with some fierce interplay, and some humour!