Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann at Carnegie Hall (3/3) – Bruckner Eight


Symphony No.8 in C-minor [1890 revision, edited Robert Haas]

Vienna Philharmonic

Christian Thielemann

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 5 March, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

The Vienna Philharmonic and Christian Thielemann’s residency at Carnegie Hall culminated with an inspired and spacious account of a monumental work. Thielemann is currently engaged in recording Bruckner’s Symphonies for Sony.

The Eighth has a history of rejections and revisions. Hermann Levi, one of the Bruckner’s preeminent supporters, was so perplexed by the original score that he refused to conduct it.

After mounting the podium, Thielemann took an exceptionally long pause before bringing the players to attention. He then launched into the staggering work, delivering an expressive and powerful reading, totally dedicated from beginning to end. As he did during he other Carnegie Hall concerts, Thielemann conducted with flawless precision and fluency, and from memory.

His interpretation of this, the most expansive of Bruckner’s Symphonies, was vigorous, intense and emotionally expressive, aided by luminous playing that exuded authority and aspiration. The warm, robust strings bestowed a sense of occasion, with the entry of each new voice energetic and alive, the great brass chorales giving way to exquisite woodwind solos. The sprightly, frolicsome passages of the confident, open-air Scherzo surfaced with an exhilarating sense of rising anticipation as Thielemann and his forces whipped up a rollicking storm. In the glittering and soulful harp-haloed Trio, the music flowed warmly.

The expressive core of Bruckner’s score burned brightest in the extensive Adagio, where Thielemann expertly managed its coloristic and dramatic demands so that everything – the radiant woodwinds, the burnished brass, and the fervent strings – was beautifully balanced and blended. The most reflective moments were absolutely transfixing. The beautifully shaped Finale was bitingly dramatic with no letup of intensity. The triumphant coda – with strings and brass drifting from one key to another and themes from all four movements coming together in blazing counterpoint – was thrilling.

There was a joyful encore, a lilting rendition of Josef Strauss’s waltz, Sphärenklänge.

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