Symphony No.9 in D minor
Recorded 6 & 8 May 2007 in Semperoper, Dresden
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: August 2009
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL
Duration: 64 minutes
Fabio Luisi has been director of Staatskapelle Dresden and Saxon State Opera since 2007 having previously held distinguished conducting posts in Germany and Austria. The booklet provides a readable interview with him. Certainly his clear-cut explanation of his approach to Bruckner in which he stresses the importance of structure and form is borne out by this performance, a compilation of concerts. The production team has made the best of this procedure and presents a studio-style recording. Very wisely between-movement audience-noise and final applause is removed. I also strongly approve the 15-second gaps that have been placed between the movements.
Luisi takes a broad view of Bruckner’s final music. Of recordings I happen to have to hand, he is slower than Horenstein, Wildner and Eugen Jochum. Perhaps more surprisingly, he is six percent slower overall than Georg Tintner – a conductor known for his broad approach to Bruckner. Luisi’s view reminds of a great performance given in 2000 by Günter Wand with the NDR Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Luisi’s tempos are very close to those of Wand and the outcome is a performance in the distinguished Austro-German tradition.
Luisi controls the changing moods and wide dynamic contrasts of the opening movement with great skill – this firm approach gives a sense of inevitability and my subjective response when the long coda commenced was one of tense anticipation. It seems that the interpretation had been geared to making this commencement of the movement’s last phase into a highly dramatic moment. Perhaps this is proof of Luisi’s belief in the importance of structure in Bruckner.
Luisi’s conducting of the scherzo is very broad in tempo and relates ideally to the speeds chosen for the outer movements. Weight and emphasis are employed in a determined manner (Robert Simpson once declared: “this is giants’ music”) and in the strangely swift trio section (marked Schnell‘), Luisi holds the tempo notably firm. The resultant feeling of urgency without haste seems ideal.
The slow (and final) movement of this unfinished symphony (although the finale can now be performed) begins with more than a hint of portamento (an out-of-fashion style) but it is perfectly acceptable in this grave reading, notable for its steadiness of tempo, during which there is much sensitive shaping of melodies and subtle contrast of orchestral timbre. Once again I am drawn back to the memory of that live Wand performance. He recorded the work commercially more than once but my ‘air-check’ of his Royal Albert Hall version has something special about it.
It is gratifying that Luisi’s interpretation can be spoken of in the same terms, for this is a Bruckner performance for the thoughtful listener, calmly and carefully executed with inner parts clearly audible, recorded in exciting terms, particularly from the brass but the string melodies are never overpowered; and quiet pizzicatos that have been lost in other recordings are here well defined as indeed are Bruckner’s whimsical woodwind phrases.
There are other valuable views of the music; despite sonic limitations, few versions match the terrifying maelstrom of sound that Furtwängler obtained at the climax of the first movement. Wand searches out sonorities in the lower regions of the orchestra in an individual way, and Jochum achieves powerful grandeur throughout. There is no one way to interpret these three remarkable movements but I certainly warm to Luisi’s deeply-felt reading.