Symphony No.8 in C-minor (revised version, edited Robert Haas)
Recorded 5 &13 October 2019 at the Golden Hall, Musikverein, Vienna
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: November 2020
CD No: SONY CLASSICAL 19439786582
Duration: 81 minutes
Here begins Sony Classical’s presentation of Bruckner’s Symphonies with Christian Thielemann and the Vienna Philharmonic. Previously this conductor has recorded No.8 with Staatskapelle Dresden. The timings are similar to those of the new Sony but there is an intriguing item in John F. Berky’s comprehensive list of all Bruckner recordings showing a 2007 performance with the Vienna Philharmonic which takes over ninety minutes. On Sony, Thielemann’s choice of tempo is convincingly comfortable and enhances a mature, deeply considered interpretation.
This is Bruckner’s 1890 revision of the original 1887 version. He made considerable and very effective changes to the first two moments but largely left the last two movements alone. Sadly, other hands interfered, making cuts and alterations to the Adagio and Finale prior to publication, but here Thielemann uses the 1939 edition by Robert Haas which restores the lost music.
The recording is ‘live’, that is to say two concerts are pieced together giving the producer the equivalent of a ‘retake’ to assist with editing. All audience noise and applause is removed so there is little difference between this and a studio recording. This commonly used method also happened with many of Günter Wand’s recordings. Wand conducted Bruckner with deep insight and to some extent Thielemann’s approach is similar: flexible in expression while never permitting suppleness of tempo to spoil the momentum of the music. Where conductors such as Haitink or Tintner built exciting climaxes while reserving further power for the ultimate peroration of a movement, Thielemann sets each of Bruckner’s moments of glory fully ablaze.
The nature of the interpretation is evident from the outset: tension at the quiet start, a glowing climax followed by relaxation. This is the pattern in all climactic episodes but it is done subtly so that the progression into each following section moves on naturally. Dynamic range is considerable with notably quiet moments such as the ending of the Scherzo’s Trio. The great Adagio is rendered with depth of feeling and the Viennese strings have a magically gentle tone in the lyrical episodes, subtly enhanced by the carefully balanced harp contributions.
The recording suits Bruckner’s expansive orchestration well – suitably resonant and with a sense of distance. On the occasion that I saw Thielemann conduct Bruckner in the concert hall I noted that he set trumpets and trombones at the rear of the orchestra and it sounds as if it is so in this recording. The powerful brass section is never allowed to overpower strings and woodwind. The Finale provides many a rich full-orchestra outburst and Thielemann makes them glow. In the long multi-themed coda inner detail is of less significance than usual, instead there is a great general panoply of golden sound. How very appropriate for this particular venue.