2003 Bruckner Marathon

The 2003 Bruckner Marathon was held on 30 August 2003 in Carlsbad, California (San Diego County) to celebrate Bruckner's 179th birthday. The recordings were selected by Ramón Khalona and Dave Griegel with the goal of presenting an interesting variety of styles from some of the greatest Bruckner conductors.

Program Notes

Symphony in F minor

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arte Nova 84434-2

We open this year's marathon with Skrowaczewski's idiomatic reading of Bruckner's earliest symphony - a work composed during a three and a half month period by the then 38-year old composer under the supervision of Otto Kitzler. One of the fascinating things about listening to this symphony is to establish the connections between the early symphonist and his predecessors, especially Schumann and Mendelssohn, whose influences can be clearly heard in certain passages. One of only a few conductors to have recorded this work, we are glad that Skrowaczewski decided to include it as part of his complete cycle on the Arte Nova label, which is a fine and inexpensive introduction to the symphonies.

Symphony No. 1

Ernest Bour
Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sardana CDR 293

French conductor Ernest Bour, a pupil of Hermann Scherchen, succeeded Rosbaud at the helm of the SWF Orchestra in Baden-Baden in 1964 and continued his predecessor's excellence in performing 20th century music until his departure in 1979. A supreme interpreter of Stravinsky's works, he conducts what is arguably the strongest recording of the composer's Violin Concerto with Grumiaux (Philips), which was probably his recording of introduction for many music lovers. This exceedingly rare live recording of the First shows that Bour had the perfect pulse for early Bruckner, giving us a very dynamic and inspired performance.

Symphony No. 0

Gennady Rozhdestvensky
USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra
BMG/Melodiya BVCX38013/14

To Rozhdestvensky belongs the honor of being the first of only four conductors to record all of Bruckner's eleven symphonies (Inbal, Tintner and Skrowaczewski are the others). His cycle was first released on the Russian Melodiya label and has been re-released on CD by BMG/Melodiya in Japan on a 16-CD set, which includes several, though not all, of the versions of the individual symphonies. This is Bruckner with a heavy Russian accent, unidiomatic, but very exciting and with a distinctive brass sound that only Russian orchestras before the fall of the Soviet Union could make. We think this is a very enjoyable and rare performance.

Symphony No. 2

Horst Stein
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Decca POCL-4321

Horst Stein's is not a household name when it comes to Bruckner. He has made studio recordings of the Second (in addition to this one, a live recording with the Bamberg Symphony exists), Fourth (Bamberg), and Sixth (VPO/Decca). Also, a very expansive recording of the Fifth, from Wuppertal, has been released on a pirate label in Japan. When Decca released this recording in the early 70s, it was one of only a handful then available, and it featured the best sound. Stein makes the best possible case for the somewhat discredited Haas edition and is supported by the forceful playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. (Interestingly, this appears to be their only recording of the work.)

Symphony No. 3

Hans Rosbaud
Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Arkadia 772.1

Hans Rosbaud, perhaps the greatest conductor who did not enjoy widespread fame, acquired his reputation as a masterful interpreter of Bruckner during the postwar years, when he was music director of the Munich Philharmonic. Unfortunately, no recorded performances from this period seemed to have survived. From 1948 to his passing in 1962, he conducted the Südwestfunk Sinfonieorchester (SWF - Symphony Orchestra of the Southwest German Radio) in Baden-Baden where he left a veritable trove of recorded treasures, among which are performances of Bruckner's symphonies Two to Nine recorded for broadcast. The Third offered here is without question one of the finest ever (Rosbaud follows the 1889 edition), with excellent playing and masterful control of the symphony's complicated structure.

Symphony No. 4

István Kertész
London Symphony Orchestra
Testament SBT 1298

When István Kertész recorded this Bruckner Fourth in 1965, Bruckner was hardly standard fare for English orchestras. Yet, the performance he was able to draw out of the LSO is extremely fine and idiomatic, with particularly convincing contributions from the brass section. Had it not been for his accidental death in 1973 at age 43, Kertész could have easily become one of the world's greatest Brucknerians. Unfortunately, apart from a live recording of the same symphony (also with the LSO), this recording is the only Bruckner in Kertész' impressive discography.

Symphony No. 5

Martin Sieghart
Bruckner Orchester Linz
BOL CD 1095 (orchestra's own label)

Many of us first heard of Martin Sieghart when he was chosen by Camerata to complete the cycle of numbered Bruckner symphonies begun by Kurt Eichhorn. Principal conductor of the Bruckner Orchester Linz since 1992, Sieghart contributed recordings of the First, Third, and Fourth to the Camerata cycle and then went on the record the live Fifth heard here a few months later. (He also has a studio recording of the Eighth on Denon.)

It should come as no surprise that the Bruckner Orchester Linz excels in the music of its namesake, and Sieghart leads them well. What you get in this recording is pure, idiomatic Bruckner.

Symphony No. 6

Heinz Rögner
East Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Schallplatten 32TC-52

Although Rögner's name does not often come to mind when Bruckner conductors are discussed, he has recorded symphonies Four through Nine, in addition to Masses Two and Three and the Te Deum, all with the Berlin Radio Symphony from the former East Germany, where he held various conducting and teaching positions. A recently published discography (see ) reveals a vast repertoire, with significant entries in 20th century music. This performance of the Sixth, on the propulsive side, shows a fascinating contrast between the energetic outer movements and a beautifully realized Adagio, which counters the overly slow readings that are common nowadays, without losing any of the serenity and meditative qualities of Bruckner's music. Rögner pays particular attention to the voicing of the brass, and his handling of Bruckner's challenging tempo relationships in the first movement is masterful. The conductor passed away in December of 2001 in Leipzig, his birthplace.

Symphony No. 7

Eugen Jochum
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Tahra 269

One of the greatest Bruckner conductors of all time, Jochum began his journey of the symphonies when he conducted the Seventh in Munich in 1926 at the age of 24, a concert he financed himself at a considerable loss, which shows that his commitment as a Brucknerian was firm from the beginning. He went on to give a total of 121 performances of this work during his career and made one of the first recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic during the 78-rpm era in 1939. The Bruckner discography indicates that no fewer than eight recorded performances of this symphony under Jochum exist, with various orchestras, ranging from that Vienna recording to his last tour with the Concertgebouw Orchestra to Japan in 1986, months before his passing. It is arguable that from all these recordings, the one selected here (his first recording during the LP era, made for Deutsche Grammophon) is the finest, with superb execution from the Berlin Philharmonic and excellent mono sound for which no apologies need be made.

Symphony No. 8

Dennis Russell Davies
Bruckner Orchester Linz
BOL CD 1102 (orchestra's own label)

In regard to the cymbal crashes in the Adagio of the 1887 Bruckner Eighth, Georg Tintner wrote in the notes to his Naxos recording "what can the poor conductor do with these six strokes?" Tintner's solution was to include them. In the recording selected here, Dennis Russell Davies presents another solution, excluding the cymbal crashes but including the remaining percussion. But that is not the only interesting feature of Davies' recording.

Chief Conductor of the Bruckner Orchester Linz since the autumn of 2002, Davies' live performance of the 1887 Eighth falls in between the commercial recordings of Inbal and Tintner in terms of tempi. Yet Davies' reading is just as probing as Tintner's. The musicians in the Bruckner Orchester Linz have Bruckner's music in their blood, and it shows in this recording. We can only hope that we will get to hear more Bruckner from this talented conductor.

Symphony No. 9

Rafael Kubelík
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Orfeo 550011

"'Let me back, I want to die out there!' he begged as they carried him from the Munich podium after he collapsed in a Bruckner Ninth." This reference to an incident involving Kubelík, quoted in Lebrecht's somewhat irreverent look at the conducting profession ("The Maestro Myth"), hints that Bruckner was a very serious part of his musical diet. Better known for his Mahler, Kubelík's foray in Bruckner can be documented as far back as his tenure with the Chicago Symphony in the 1950s, when, still in his 30s, he conducted performances of the 8th and 4th symphonies. He went on to make studio recordings of the Third and Fourth symphonies with his Munich orchestra and was a particular advocate of the Sixth symphony, which he performed with several orchestras in Europe and in the U.S.A. This passionate performance of the Ninth dates from the period when he had relinquished the podium at Munich and made several return visits despite poor health. We are fortunate that Orfeo has gone to the master tapes to give us the best possible sound of this performance.

Acknowledgement We wish to acknowledge John Berky for his diligent and comprehensive work in maintaining the Bruckner discography, an essential resource for all Brucknerians.