Symphony No.7 in E [Edition by Leopold Nowak]
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act One
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra [Bruckner]
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI
Bruckner recorded 12 April 1956 in Herkulessaal, Munich; Wagner recorded on 17 December 1956 in Auditorium di Torino della RAI, Turin
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: September 2008
CD No: MEDICI ARTS MM030-2
Duration: 70 minutes
I recall being very disappointed with Otto Klemperer’s early-1960s recording of Bruckner 7 with the Philharmonia Orchestra on three LP sides (Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll was on the fourth). One irritating feature was the tendency of the first violins to be slightly ahead of the other instruments in many of the full-orchestra chords: this happened so frequently that I found myself anticipating it. Another element, very uncharacteristic of Klemperer, was the way in which, particularly in the second and fourth movements, the long phrases were rounded off as if they were self-sufficient sentences in a literary paragraph. I also felt that the slowing of tempo together with rallentandos, used consistently to close the main fragments of the finale’s themes, tended to upset the inexorable progress towards the final coda.
In the booklet note to this Bavarian version we are told that Klemperer favoured the 1954 Nowak edition, which incorporated the revisions found in Bruckner’s score of 1885. Oddly the author mentions that in his 1944 edition Robert Haas “sought to remove them”. Well, Haas did more than seek to remove the revisions – he simply ignored them, leaving Bruckner’s ideas as they were. In fact these two editions differ only slightly, the major example (aside from the percussion-capped climax in the Adagio that Nowak favoured) being the introduction of tempo changes. To his credit Nowak put these markings in parentheses but sadly some conductors observe them, to the detriment of structure. I now realise that this was the reason for my discomfort with the Philharmonia version at certain points.
Although I find the Bavarian performance superior I was sorry to find that those tempo changes were observed, otherwise this interpretation has much more of the sturdy forward-moving Klemperer style familiar to us. It takes six minutes less than the Philharmonia recording and is a good deal less hesitant. Much of Klemperer’s straightforwardness is evident – in particular there is no drooping ends of phrases that made the later recording so disappointing nor is there any uncomfortable leading of first violins.
The technical quality is good for its day and even the cymbals, triangle and timpani passage at the climax of the slow movement is captured quite well although, as so often in Bruckner recordings, there are several examples during dramatic moments where the strings are submerged by the brass.
Klemperer is a notable Bruckner interpreter but I do not feel that his Bruckner 7 is among his most commendable interpretations. Although there is a great deal to admire and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra often sounds beautiful despite the elderly mono recording, my general impression is that a fine orchestra under a fine conductor gives a good professional performance and at the risk of damning with faint praise the word ‘workmanlike’ springs to mind.