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Klemperer, an ardent Bruckner advocate of the music he believed in, by this stage had tended to lose control of line and argument. Czech-born Rafael Kubelik had expressed a desire to conduct the Third and Fourth symphonies (both on CBS-Sony), and eventually a live broadcast of the Eighth came into circulation on the Orfeo label with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra. Compare the timings against Klemperer and they are similar, yet Kubelik performs the work in its entirety, a thrilling account that fuses frenetic unleashings, lyrical second subjects, and spiritual contemplation. Ultimately a fine performance, but not definitive.

The latest contender with this mighty work is Pierre Boulez (DG); surprising at this stage as there is still a Mahler cycle awaiting completion. As one would expect, the playing by the Berlin Philharmonic is magnificent and the recording first class. Yet Boulez' cogent, finely balanced presentation finally left me feeling that here was a performance very much on top of the listener without any breathing space in which to register conflicting emotions, inner struggles, final resolves. Quite out of character are the sudden expanded climaxes minus the preparatory build-up.

Was there a performance of this great symphony on disc that I had not heard? Some realization of how to present its compelling message that would combine the finest qualities from the most revealing interpretations, yet give full concentration to the musical meaning?

During the late 1970s I had seen LPs of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra under the direction of Rudolf Kempe on a specialist dealer's shelf. I pondered over the enormous price, whilst Roger Hewland of Gramex pointed out its collectors' value. That was the last time I saw the set until the recent reissue of a CD transfer by SOMM.

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Copyright © 21 October 2001 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK




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