Aachen Symphony Orchestra – Bruckner 9 Completed

Symphony No. 9 [with finale in the performing version of Samale-Philips-Cohrs-Mazzuca: revised new edition by Cohrs/Samale 2006] [German premiere]

Sinfonieorchester Aachen
Marcus R. Bosch

Reviewed by: Ken Ward

Reviewed: 28 May, 2007
Venue: St Nikolaus Church, Aachen, Germany

Bruckner always conceived his Ninth Symphony as a four-movement work. Even when it occurred to him that he might not be given the chance to finish the symphony, he suggested the expedient of using the “Te Deum” as a finale. And he very nearly completed the symphony, but from almost the moment of his death the manuscript pages of the finale began to be dispersed to various sites worldwide. From what remains today (a facsimile and a study score in an edition by John Phillips are published by Musikwissenschaftlicher Verlag, Wien) it is evident that Bruckner had the full concept in mind, and that the score he left was on the brink of completion. The fragments that survive are extensive, many of them fully scored, and they chart the progress of the movement through the exposition and much of the development up until the coda. There are also couple of sketches giving information about the closing bars.

Faced with this situation a tradition has grown up that the three movements are in fact complete in themselves and function well in the tradition of the ‘unfinished symphony’. But to hear the Ninth as the composer intended we need to hear a four-movement work, with an Adagio that functions as a third movement and not as a finale.

In recent months there have been three significant attempts to achieve this. Perhaps the most notorious is that by Peter Jan Marthé, who in August 2006 performed a four-movement Ninth which he asserts a voice, that of Bruckner himself, commanded him to finish. This is a spectacular Version (available on Preiser CD), but its cavalier treatment of the sources and massive additions by Marthé make it more than speculative. Then in September 2006 there was a performance in Tokyo of a revision of William Carragan’s edition of the finale. Carragan’s work was the first to bring to the wider public knowledge of the nature of the finale material and the possibility that it might be brought together into a performing version. This latest Carragan edition is available on the Japanese Delta label.

Then there have been a series of editions of a completion by Nicola Samale, in conjunction with Giuseppe Mazzucca, and later John A. Phillips and Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs. This work has been supported by considerable critical commentary in which Phillips and Cohrs have sought to explain and justify their philological and musical decisions so that interested readers can begin to understand exactly how much is Bruckner and how much might be regarded as informed conjecture.

The latest contribution to this endeavour is a new edition by Samale and Cohrs which had its first performance in Fulham Town Hall, 24 June 2006, and it was this, with minor revisions, that was performed in Aachen. This finale score with critical commentary is published by Musikproduktion Höflich, München.

Marcus Bosch’s conception of the symphony is that of an urgent, troubled, purposeful work. This performance was remarkably fast, lasting only ten minutes over the hour. (Some performances of the ‘unfinished’ three-movement work last this long.) Having chosen his quick tempo, Bosch was consistent throughout the first movement and held it tautly together. There was little room to breathe between themes, and indeed the only moment of peace seemed to be the introduction to the third theme – woodwind and horn solos – where, for a moment, anxious passion was briefly in abeyance. The lyrical second theme on its first appearance had all the angst of late Mahler, and on its recapitulation became manically rhapsodic.

But after such a hurried vision, what scherzo becomes possible? Well, in this performance, taken fairly fast but with neither lilt nor dance, it had little to say; the trio, at an arbitrarily slower pace, was well-played by the strings but failed to rise to the scary potential of this ghostly interlude.

A break for tuning, and then the orchestra launched with what seemed like brutality into the Adagio, storming into the ff bars with the trumpet exclamations, and back into the urgent, passionate, tortured world of the opening movement. The virtue of consistency began to be undermined by the unwelcome suspicion of homogeneity, that here was a rather one-dimensional musical sensibility. The great dissonance was given no time to register its enormity, the music strode on, the falling crochet-quaver chords on Wagner tubas and horns that unwind the tension towards the close had quavers played so short they were like grunts of ill-temper rather than world-weary sighs. But the brass section was exceptional throughout, the long-held chord at the end of the Adagio a glorious sound.

In nearly every performance one hears this as the end of the symphony, and to destroy a hundred years of tradition it really is essential to continue straight on into the finale. The pp timpani on A must be heard to follow the three-beat rest after the E major chord that ends the Adagio. Unfortunately a long pause was indulged in, a bit of tuning up, before the finale commenced. This was a shame, because it allowed the thought that we were embarking now on something new and separate, not necessarily of a piece with the previous movements.

Bosch’s fairly brisk approach paid some dividends in the last movement, the insistent dotted rhythm registering very effectively as the characteristic element of the first and second subjects. Indeed, the exposition was very strongly presented, the great chorale third theme sounding out gloriously – how could it not with such fine brass and a church acoustic? But, needless to say, Bosch was disinclined to linger over it: it shone briefly, the descending “Te Deum” motif floated down from the flutes, and then it was back to business. The fugue that forms a significant element of the second part of the movement, even though the acoustic and orchestral balance didn’t help all the voices to register, was magnificent and gripping throughout.

The goal of the movement in this reconstruction is a moment of crisis, a crisis that is revealed as underlying the whole symphony and here becomes focused in the overlaying of the main themes of all the movements. This is an attempt to recreate what was reported by Bruckner’s doctor, Heller, to whom Bruckner played the finale on the piano. But this is not like the synthesis in C major that concludes the Eighth Symphony: it is brief, cathartic and in this performance noticeably reminiscent of the crisis in the Adagio – a point in which the consistency and rigour of Bosch’s approach paid off.

With this summation the symphonic process is effectively finished, but the second half of the coda steals in with a thoroughly Brucknerian inversion of the “Te Deum” motif, mysterious and pregnant with what is to be the final gift – the song of praise to the Dedicatee of the symphony, “Dem lieben Gott”, an Alleluia. It is, of course, not known what Bruckner would actually have made of this, but those involved in this completion have built their solution on the basis of what is known of Bruckner’s plans for the harmonic foundation of the coda, Dr Heller’s report, deductions from other examples of Bruckner Alleluias and other works of his from this period.

It is not unreasonable, of course, to feel that Bruckner himself would have done it much better (though there is a school of thought that the work is unfinished because it is unfinishable, and we mere mortals must confront the issues raised in the symphony without any closing solace), so at the close of this performance I suffered from a degree of disappointment that the 20 or so years of musical, scholarly and devoted work by true lovers of Bruckner’s music, that has succeeded so well in making performable and convincing the major part of the movement that has survived, may have not – at least on the strength of this performance – delivered quite such an exalted gift as Bruckner’s faith, generosity and inimitable compositional skill would have promised us.

The church was full, the concert sold out, and the audience rose to a standing ovation at the finish, but I did not think that, on this Pentecost morning, there was much sense that the Holy Spirit had been brought to those gathered in the church by this hard-driven performance. A recording is promised from Corviello Classics.

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