Cleveland Orchestra Concert – 13th June

Symphony No.8 in C minor [1890 version edited Haas]

Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 13 June, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

For his penultimate concert as Music Director, Christoph von Dohnányi chose one mighty symphony and displayed in no uncertain terms the refinement, culture and homogeneity of the orchestra he has headed for the last two decades.

Bruckner can be more rough-hewn, volatile and earthier, can ascend to the summit with more zeal, and propound with more passion, yet in terms of positive achievement, without gratification, this Bruckner 8 aimed high. Architectural control did not impede shapely phrasing, beautiful sound was not manicured or saturated, enlightenment and authority were even-handed, while power and depth didn’t induce fist-waving or excessive decibels.

This thoughtfully balanced account – wind and string detailing tellingly blended to reveal Bruckner’s contrapuntal mastery, the smallest timpani figures crystal-clear (the drum intervention at the start of the ’Finale’ disappointingly tepid though) – was gripping in terms of a precise and considered soundscape. Dohnányi’s European lineage was underlined by integrated brass (tuba, Wagner tubas and trombones on the left, horns and trumpets on the right), his concern for orchestra-layout confirmed by antiphonal violins with cellos left-centre and double basses behind the first fiddles. Erudition informs Dohnányi’s approach and the lucid timbres and architecture that emerge. American virtuosity is not denied, never as an end in itself, and at its most acrobatic in the spanking ’Scherzo’ – driven but not for effect.

Dohnányi knocked a few minutes off his recorded ’Adagio’ (Decca 466 333-2), under 24 minutes here, which still allowed a magical episode of stillness and purification en route to the cymbal-capped climax – tellingly delayed by Haas not accepting Bruckner’s cut.

The first movement was a triumph of concentrated culmination; a shame that the clock couldn’t just stop at the final bar – even the merest ritardando spoils the effect. The ’Finale’, Dohnányi prudent in negotiating one of Bruckner’s least successful attempts at continuous structure, was by the end more a view of the mountaintop than an arrival on it.

Nevertheless, within Dohnányi’s parameters of logic, unaffected musicianship, linear and harmonic dovetailing and tandem beauty and design, this was impressive and rewarding – especially in the transparent revealing of all Bruckner’s strands and the Clevelanders’ ability to play chamber music and work as a team.

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