Friday, February 10, 2012
Bruckner the Romantic
Gerd Schaller, conductor
It has taken about a century for the symphonies of Austrian composer Anton Bruckner to enter the repertories of major orchestras. One of his champions is German conductor Gerd Schaller, most widely known in Germany as an opera conductor and founder and music director of the Ebracher Musiksommer Festival.
His recording with the Philharmonie Festiva of Bruckner's Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies, with the fourth movement completed by William Carragan, has recently been released on the Profil/Hanssler Classic label.
The Philharmonie Festiva is comprised of leading musicians from Munich's three major orchestras–the Munich Philharmonic, the Bavarian Radio Symphony, and the Bavarian State Opera Orchestra. This new release is a wonder. Taking its place alongside Karajan's Bruckner, this recording is a monument to Bruckner's contribution to the orchestral repertoire.
All performances were recorded live in concert at the Ebracher Festival. The Fourth and Seventh were recorded in 2007 and 2008, while the Ninth was recorded in 2010. All three recorded performances are spacious, clear, and with great presence, although the engineering of the earlier performances has slightly more depth.
Musically, the performances can hardly be bettered. Schaller's interpretation reflects his theatrical experience. While dramatic, the performances are still direct and without affectation. The brass section takes center stage in any Bruckner work, and the Festiva's brass takes second place to no other orchestra's brasses. The sound of German brass has a characteristically dark sheen that takes the edge off the bright brassiness that is sometimes too piercing. The sound of the lower strings is deep and rich, augmented by the wonderful clarity and depth of the bass in Profil's recording.
Whether you are new to Bruckner's symphonies or one of the growing number of admirers of his music, this recording is not to be missed. If the angst-saturation of Mahler is not to your taste, then Bruckner's romanticism may be just the ticket.
Bruckner was a self-acknowledged heir of Wagner's, but he had his own voice. Bruckner revised his major works, often dozens of times, so his death in 1896 precluded the completion of his Ninth and last symphony. He left copious, if untidy notes, however, and Carragan's completion of the fourth movement is true to both the letter and spirit of Bruckner's intentions.