Symphony No.9 in D minor [Nowak Edition]
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Sir Reginald Goodall
Recorded on 4 May 1974 in BBC Studios, London
Reviewed by: Timothy Ball
Reviewed: April 2006
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 67 minutes
Virtually all of Sir Reginald Goodall’s small, but vital and valuable, recorded legacy is to be found via the preservation of ‘live’ performances. Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “Parsifal” were set down – respectively – for Decca in 1980-81 and EMI in 1984, and excerpts from Britten’s “Peter Grimes” and “The Rape of Lucretia” made contemporaneously with the premières of those operas are the fruits of his work in the studio.
With the release of this Ninth Symphony of Bruckner, BBC Legends has now made available Goodall’s survey of Bruckner’s last three symphonies. No.7 (a Royal Festival Hall concert) dates from 1971 [BBCL 4147-2] and the 8th is from a 1969 Prom [BBCL 4086-2]. This 9th is not a concert performance, but one recorded for broadcasting. It is described as originating from a “private source”; one shudders at the thought that the BBC must have lost, or disposed of, the original tapes.
It has to be said that whilst the sound is not the epitome of the state of the art, it is, nevertheless, by no means an obstacle to appreciating what is clearly a deeply considered reading, played with considerable commitment. In fact, it sounds like a performance which is the culmination of many, but it was the only occasion when Goodall conducted the symphony, and he must have pondered it profoundly and been able to convey his intentions to his players.
The whole is, predictably, conceived spaciously yet never ‘feels’ slow. Indeed, unlike many Bruckner performances, there is no suggestion, in Goodall’s hands, of any structural hesitation. The music flows naturally and with a remarkable sense of inevitability. Goodall captures perfectly Bruckner’s opening performance instruction – ‘Feierlich. Misterioso’. Not a tempo marking, but an indicator of mood and approach. With the most precise observation of the differentiation between quaver and semiquaver upbeats, the music does indeed sound ‘solemn and mysterious’, the tone of the opening horns being appropriately dark and sombre. The music grows to climaxes of momentous power, with expressive woodwinds (the flute and oboe principals being especially fine) providing poignant contrast. Moreover, Goodall makes us aware of the inner workings of the score, with counterpoint and shifting middle harmonies registering with unusual clarity. This first movement does not feel – or sound – like a series of episodes, but rather a cohesive entity building towards a coda of monumental defiance.
The momentum of the following scherzo, Bruckner’s ‘lebhaft’ (lively) marking once again strictly observed and its implications captured and conveyed, will surprise those who associate Goodall with consistent slow tempos. The main body of this movement is given with no little sense of menace, whilst the trio is delivered with an almost Mendelssohn-like swiftness – a passage of rare lightness in this otherwise darkly-tinged score.
The Adagio is given with overwhelming feelings of nostalgia and regret. String lines are passionate – without being overly emotional – with very occasional and discreet use of portamento, and brass fanfares are delivered without stridency. In fact, the sonority and blend of the whole orchestra are evidently elements Goodall had worked on most thoroughly and there is a tangible sense of the musicians of the BBC Symphony Orchestra giving their all to this infrequent visitor – who probably did not say very much during rehearsals.
Goodall’s reading of Bruckner 9 is profoundly moving – above all in the ‘final’ movement, at the conclusion of which there is no hint of the symphony being ‘unfinished’ – and I recommend this release with all possible enthusiasm.
Let us hope that other recordings can be unearthed from the Goodall treasure-trove: the Covent Garden “Fidelio” with Hildegard Behrens and Jon Vickers, a remarkable Schumann 4 (also with the Royal Opera House Orchestra) and, perhaps above all, the broadcast of “Peter Grimes” transmitted by the BBC on 17 July 1945, just over a month after the opera’s first performance, the success of which was due in no small part to Goodall’s passionate advocacy of Britten’s score.