Wienerskizze [World premiere]
Symphony No.7 in E
West Bohemian Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 22 April, 2011
Venue: Gesellschaftshaus Casino, Marienbad, Czech Republic
My visit to Marienbad for a Good Friday concert took me from London via Amsterdam to Nuremberg and over the border by train to Marienbad. I have always heard the great Seventh Symphony by Bruckner as being as near-religious (certainly spiritual) experience, with its honouring of (Wagner’s) death at the end of the slow movement. Indeed it was with a feeling of Fate that I noted the train leaving before mine was destined for Bayreuth.
Most lovers of foreign-language films have heard of (if not seen!) “Last Year in Marienbad”, a French movie from 1960 directed in idiosyncratic style by Alain Resnais. Then I hear that the local orchestra is the oldest in Czechoslovakia (established 1821) and heaven begins to descend in the form of Bruckner 7 on Good Friday. Marienbad is a unique spa town, an hour’s drive from the German border set in Bohemia’s woods and fields; unique because of its colossal, Habsburgian architecture and green, open spaces. Visited by Goethe in 1809 (where the 80-year-old writer unsuccessfully tried to woo an 18-year-old girl, thanks to mama’s wise disapproval), ‘modern’ Marienbad was largely built in the second half of the 19th-century to cater for wealthy central Europeans and Royals who believed (and still believe) in the healing powers of the local water.
A good-size audience heard a wonderful performance of Bruckner 7, prefaced by a two-minute appetiser by Jan Hora (Michael Roháč’s pen name) knitting together themes from prominent Viennese composers, a gentle entrée into the sublime mysteries of mature Bruckner. The Seventh was probably the only successful symphony Bruckner wrote in his lifetime. It is not hard to figure out why. Most of his previous symphonies presented contemporary audiences (and conductors) with problems: too long, too discursive, and unconvincing finales. Today, of course, these earlier works are held in much higher regard. The Seventh was left almost entirely untouched by the composer after its premiere – save that both Robert Haas and Leopold Nowak in their respective editions disagree over dynamics; Haas also excludes the cymbal clash at the climax of the Adagio given it may not have been Bruckner’s intention, Nowak includes it. Horáč omitted it, thus leaning to Haas, although no edition was stated for this performance, and this decision (one of taste) permeated the conductor’s authoritative interpretation of the whole work.
To his great credit this still-young maestro (36) can hear the wood for the trees, so important in Bruckner’s huge canvases. His approach allowed his players to produce a wonderful ebb and flow in the evolution in each movement. The music unfolded naturally and gracefully and nodal points were reached without surprise or consternation. The slow movement (which followed the interval!) was the treasure here. With four horn-players as guests from the Czech Philharmonic on Wagner tubas, the music developed majestically and with great beauty of tone. The sound of the whole orchestra still captures the almost-lost world of central-European sonority from over fifty and more years ago. Bruckner’s lament near the end of the movement to the recently deceased Wagner was heartfelt and genuine. The finale was typically of powerful and firm purpose and ended the performance in convincing fashion.