Symphony No.9 in D-minor [Ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, Urtext Edition]
Te Deum [Ed. Ernst Herttrich 2015, Carus Edition]
Lucy Crowe (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano), Robin Tritschler (tenor), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: 11 February, 2024
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
In the second of two concerts featuring Bruckner, Nathalie Stutzmann and the London Symphony Orchestra came to the composer’s final Symphony, taking up his suggestion to use his setting of the Te Deum when he realised that he may not complete the Finale. As the latter was apparently going to resolve the Symphony’s apocalyptic visions with a dazzling ‘Hymn of Praise’, using the Te Deum in the absence of that to create a new Choral Symphony makes much sense, even if there are no thematic connections with the Symphony. But it is a solution rarely adopted in practice – Bernard Haitink programmed the two works with the same orchestra in 2017, but he placed the Te Deum first, still leaving the Adagio of the three-movement Symphony to have the valedictory last word.
By not ending with the Adagio, that seemed to incite – rightly – a somewhat different tack by Stutzmann. Rather than a searing, harrowed account of the unfinished Symphony geared towards a sense of renunciation in the Adagio’s ultimate bars, here its three movements were a notch less dramatic or probing than might usually be expected. Instead of instilling an ominous or foreboding character, Stutzmann took the first movement steadily and with more an air of resignation than terror – each section taken up perhaps more as a sigh, not an all-or-nothing confrontation with destiny. Certainly there was grandeur and awe, but tellingly the only remaining climax of the first movement, before the funereal chorale which initiates the closing tutti, rather fizzled away into the distance without hanging on to a pregnant pause.
The huge dissonance of the Adagio registered correctly as the central crisis of the work, but I have heard it delivered more cataclysmically – here it held something back in order to let the Te Deum break in with greater conviction (the vigour of the latter striking me as heralding the same pounding purposefulness as the hectic opening of the Eighth’s Finale). With the Te Deum to follow, the Adagio didn’t exude an air of irresolvable anguish or pain, but tended to be lyrically sustained in an unforced, flowing sequence. The concluding bars had less of a rallentando than usual, with their quavers not slurred but separately articulated as though treading onwards. In between the two mighty completed movements of the Symphony, the Scherzo was determined, but bristly pizzicato gave it an almost playful thrust as also some whirring woodwind in its Trio, more quizzical than fear-struck. Accenting every second note (against the 3/4 meter) in the unison descending arpeggio of the Scherzo’s first fortissimo tutti also imparted a tripping insistence (I’ve never heard such an articulation of this before and wonder if it is marked in the edition of the Symphony by Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs used here).
The Te Deum itself was then buoyant and lithe, its oscillating fourths and fifths carrying the setting along on a wave of striding joy, but not thunderous or craggy. Bright contributions from Lucy Crowe (replacing Christina Nilsson) in the soprano solos brought some theatrical lustre. Placed next to her was Robin Tritschler, delivering the tenor part with warm-hearted humility in the hymn’s intercessions to God. Their dialogue in ‘Te ergo quaesumus’ was tenderly accompanied on the violin by Benjamin Gilmore, reminiscent of the Benedictus from Beethoven’s Missa solemnis. With very little prominence given to the mezzo-soprano line by Bruckner to enable Anna Stéphany to come to the fore, Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s sonorous bass voice gave the work its most vocally liturgical character, even if perhaps of a more Eastern Orthodox streak. Otherwise the strings’ comparative jauntiness drew something of a link with the generally outgoing sacred music of Bruckner’s Viennese predecessors, Haydn and Mozart. The London Symphony Chorus was on spirited form in this account of engaging rapture rather than strenuous mysticism. Transparent textures from the LSO here and in the Symphony revealed a wealth of instrumental detail, which attractively leavened these musical monoliths and made the ninety-minute experience somewhat more of a human drama than a cosmic one.