Symphony No.9 in D minor
Recorded 19 & 20 May 2007 in an unspecified location
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: February 2010
CD No: HALLÉ CD HLL 7524
Duration: 62 minutes
There is something about Bruckner’s music that seems to strike a chord with all nationalities. This occurred to me when reviewing Fabio Liusi’s recording of this same work. The Austro-German nature of Bruckner’s conception was brought out superbly by that Italian conductor. Cristian Mandeal, who studied in Bucharest and subsequently became conductor of its symphony orchestra, interprets the music in a different manner, yet the result is no less Brucknerian.
The opening is a case in point: immensely hushed at the start but very wide in dynamic range. Mandeal’s is a fairly broad reading – similar in pace to that of the great Brucknerian Eugen Jochum (the timings are within one minute of each other). The Jochum similarity is at its strongest when the initial mysterious horn calls seem to come from a great distance. The individual aspect of Mandeal is his freedom of tempo, and the drama of the first major climax is underlined by a gradual increase in pace. In the same way, the many melodic fragments are led into with a sense of tension and even though a new theme might mean a modest difference of speed, the moulding of one section into another is always natural – not a change of tempo for effect, more a different expressive shaping of a new thematic idea. Mandeal is not new to recording Bruckner having made a number of CDs with the Cluj-Napoca Symphony Orchestra including a 1988 version of No.9 on Electrecord (the Romanian record company founded in 1932). On checking the relative timings I was surprised to find that Mandeal now takes ten minutes less for the work.
A memorable feature of Mandeal’s interpretation is the approach that he takes to the scherzo – fierce and wild and the rapid trio flows from such chaos very effectively; nor does the conductor relax for the trio’s more lyrical moments. There is more than one way of interpreting this movement. I admired Luisi’s broad approach and used the phrase “urgency without haste” but Mandeal’s furious view has merits of its own and even at a noticeably more rapid speed, the rhythmic precision ensures that insistent forward movement is never breathless. At 9-and-a-half minutes this is faster than many recorded versions but it is interesting that in 1988 the conductor took 12 minutes.
Mandeal opens the Adagio with passionate intensity. After a towering climax there is admirable control when moving to the following lyrical melody. Somehow Mandeal arranges to make magnificently dramatic points contrast greatly with their surrounding calm episodes without impeding forward motion. There are many hard-hitting episodes and the Hallé brass is well able to glorify Bruckner’s more splendid moments. The (unstated) acoustic is spacious enough to allow these episodes to make full impact.
Some aspects of Mandeal’s interpretation remind me of Johannes Wildner’s powerful reading for Naxos. His orchestra by no means equals the skill of the Hallé – but his is a reading where the word “intensity” also came to mind. Incidentally Wildner includes a reconstruction of the unfinished finale. With Mandeal, the broad and beautiful coda to the Adagio makes a fitting farewell to Bruckner’s symphonic oeuvre. I found it gratifying to be so impressed by a performance given by a conductor of whom I knew so little – his tenure as Chief Guest Conductor with the Hallé had escaped me.
The full-blooded recording does justice to the performance – it is not easy to obtain powerful brass sound without overpowering the remainder of the orchestra but this is achieved here. From 22’26” to 22’40” in the third movement, I hear a few vocal noises from Mandeal. This being a studio recording there would doubtless have been the opportunity for a retake. On the other hand it may have been thought that the atmosphere of the ensuing gentle music could have been spoilt by such intervention and, anyway, this is the Hallé, an orchestra with many recordings including Sir John Barbirolli’s voice audible among the instruments.