Symphony No.9 in D minor
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Jaap van Zweden
Recorded 5-6 June 2006 in the Studio of Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Hilversum
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: January 2008
CD No: EXTON OVCL-00276
Duration: 62 minutes
Born in Amsterdam in 1960, Jaap van Zweden, who was once Concertmaster of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, has been Artistic Director of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra since 2005. This is his third Bruckner recording for Exton and follows symphonies 4 and 7.
While it is good to see a musician of the younger generation conducting Bruckner’s symphonies, this recording of the Ninth offers mixed results. On the positive side, van Zweden encourages his orchestra to play with a warm, rich sound that captures the grandeur of Bruckner’s music and much of its mystery. The first half of the opening movement is very promising and the scherzo is suitably demonic. On the negative side, however, van Zweden fails to build tension as the symphonic argument develops and the great climaxes of the first and third movements seem a little under-powered. In addition, the more Expressionistic passages of the Adagio, where Bruckner seems to anticipate the harmonic developments of Schoenberg (specifically the Five Orchestral Pieces of 1909) do not make much of an impact here.
On a technical level, the orchestral playing is surprisingly fallible for a studio recording. A mistake mars the passage for flute, clarinet and oboe in bar 154 of the Adagio (16’50” into the movement), while a late entry by the trombones in bar 235 (at 25’06”) is a distraction in what is otherwise a profoundly moving reading of the coda. Headphone listeners in particular may be disturbed by vocal exhortations from the conductor, including a gasp at the very start of the Adagio and several other noises as the movement progresses.
Although it is good to see companies such as Exton releasing Hybrid CD/SACDs, the recording quality here is good rather than outstanding, resulting in little gain from the SACD stereo layer. The five-channel SACD layer adds some ambience to the soundstage but does not provide any extra detail.
The CD booklet indicates that the ‘Original Version’ of the symphony has been recorded here – that is the first three movements, the symphony being unfinished – which presumably means the edition by Alfred Orel published in 1932. If this is the case, one wonders why the Critical Edition by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs published by the International Bruckner Society was not used. Although it involves no significant changes, the Cohrs edition is preferable as it incorporates corrections from manuscript pages that have come to life since Bruckner’s death.
Van Zweden undoubtedly has a feel for Bruckner, but it is difficult to be positive about this release when there are so many other recommendable recordings of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony available, including outstanding versions by Barenboim with the Berlin Philharmonic and Giulini with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.