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A select overview of major Bruckner Symphonies
and interpreters on disc, by BILL NEWMAN
(with special reference to a rare recording by Rudolf Kempe)


Call him a simple, naïve musician full of radiant, uplifting spiritual beliefs, there is no doubt that Anton Bruckner belonged to that rare line of great German-Austrian symphonists -- Haydn, Mozart, Schubert in his last two masterpieces, Brahms and Mahler that have become universally accepted by scholars and audiences the world over. 

Brahms found his symphonies inflated, repetitive, and totally lacking in form and ideas, and was highly amused when told that Bruckner was seen kissing the skulls of Beethoven and Schubert, tears streaming down his face, prior to their re-interment in more suitable surroundings. Yet there is something realistic and poignant behind the older mans instant reaction when in the presence of great musical forbears who, in common with Brahms, set their musical seal on those that followed. Again, were it not for Bruckner and Brahms the course of music would have evolved differently.

Bruckner was close to Wagner in his aims. Those marvellous Wagner tubas in the later works provide such deep-seated sonorities to the sombre textures of the slow movements, and I was reminded of this when listening recently to Peter Altrichter's superb performance of the Eighth with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Played in strict tempo, ideally balanced with other sections, the effect is poignant in the extreme as the symphony's third movement coda breathes its final moments, leaving the listener suspended in a state of animation for the Finales striding onslaught that follows. I am sure there is a parallel here with Beethoven's Ninth, although in Bruckner's instance the phraseology is more akin to Wagner and Brahms in its continuous unbroken legato span. The buildup in its ascendancy to a new key at the close of the Finale is the composers final indebtedness to Wagner (compare Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey from Götterdämerung) -- one of the most monumental climaxes to any symphony.

Then there is the influence of Schubert in the immediately recognizable signpostings that permeate line, melodic content, mood changes, and those strangely ethereal stops and starts that usher in contrasting material with new metre spans and fresh ideas.

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Copyright © 8 July 2001 Bill Newman, Spoleto, Italy




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