2009 Bruckner Marathon

The 2009 Bruckner Marathon was held on 5 September 2009 in Carlsbad, California (San Diego County) to celebrate Bruckner's 185th 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

Overture in G minor

Libor Pesek
Czech Philharmonic
November 1986
Denon CO-72647

We kick things off with one of only a few recordings available on CD of Bruckner's early Overture in G minor, which he originally composed in 1862. He produced a revised version in 1863 (His revision mania started early on!), which Pesek recorded as part of a recording project that included the Seventh symphony, contained in the same CD. Although this is really an early composition exercise, it is interesting to hear Bruckner trying to find his voice as a composer. One hears in this overture a heroic side of Bruckner, which is nearly absent from his later, more famous works.

Scherzo from the Symphony in F minor

Erwin Horn, Organ
April 1990
Novalis 150 071-2

Erwin Horn made an important recording of some of Bruckner's organ works for the Novalis label in 1990, which included his own transcriptions of the sublime Adagio from the Sixth symphony and this Scherzo from the "Study" symphony. Erwin Horn has also made transcriptions of various movements from Bruckner's String Quintet, Nullte and Second symphonies that were released in the 1980s on a Mitra LP and on a Motette CD in 2007 (see http://www.abruckner.com/recordings/Horn/Erwin for details). Erwin Horn definitely has a great affinity for Bruckner's music!

Symphony No. 0

Georg Solti
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
October 1995
Decca 452 160-2

From 1979 through 1995, Georg Solti recorded a complete Bruckner cycle, consisting of Symphonies 0 through 9, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Many of these are unmistakably by Solti; as one Bruckner enthusiast has described it, one needs to wear sunglasses while listening to Solti's Bruckner, alluding to the overly brilliant brass. However, this recording of Die Nullte, the final installment in the cycle, is a welcome exception. Solti moves the work along, emphasizing its classical elements. With a total duration of just over 38 minutes, this is the shortest recording of Die Nullte currently listed in John Berky's discography. For their part, the CSO brass manage to maintain their continence, allowing the virtuosity of the strings and woodwinds to come through.

Symphony No. 1

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra
13-18 June 1995
Oehms Classics CD OC 210

Skrowaczewski recorded a complete cycle of all 11 Bruckner symphonies with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, which merged with the SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserslautern in September 2007 to form a new orchestra, known as the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie. The first recordings Skrowaczewski made with this new orchestra are very fine performances of Schumann's Symphonies 2 and 3, and his skill in interpreting Schumann are brought to bear on the recording of the Bruckner First presented here. Skrowaczewski allows the First to sound like an early romantic symphony, keeping the brass in appropriate balance with the strings and woodwinds. Skrowaczewski maintains excitement through mainly fleet tempi, interspersed appropriately with some moments of repose.

Symphony No. 2

Jaap van Zweden
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
18-21 September 2007
Exton EXCL-00014

In addition to Symphony No. 2, Jaap van Zweden has thus far recorded Symphonies 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic for the Exton label. All of these are available from Japanese sources; fortunately, Symphony 2 is available from sources in the UK for a much better price. Van Zweden's tempo choices for the outer movements are nearly ideal, with particularly broad tempi in the finale, which make it possible for the orchestra to make a powerful impression. The Scherzo has fleet tempi, while the Andante is Celibidachean in its slowness.

Van Zweden uses the Nowak edition, though he might have been able to use Carragan's new edition of the same version, published the same year as the recording. Van Zweden follows Nowak's instructions for a pure 1877 version, except in the finale, where he includes the first of two vi-de passages offered by Nowak. Inclusion of this passage, a second quotation of the Kyrie from the F minor mass, goes against Bruckner's obvious strategies in performing his revisions of 1877, and it even requires a rewrite of the first violin part in two measures. It is, nonetheless, a sublime passage that can be sorely missed when absent, despite one's wishes to honor Bruckner's intentions.

Symphony No. 3

Lovro von Matacic
Philharmonia Orchestra
23 July 1983
BBC Legends BBCL 4079-2

Lovro von Matacic's first Bruckner recording was made in 1954: an outstanding reading of the 1888 version of the Bruckner Fourth, which was the first complete commercial recording of that version of the symphony. His final Bruckner recordings, of the Seventh and Eighth, made in 1984, were played in earlier marathons. Here we present a recording of another one of Matacic's later Bruckner performances, a live Third from 1983. Matacic mainly follows the 1878 version of the symphony, edited by Oeser, but he also mixes in some elements of the 1889 version as well, most noticeably the big trumpet tune in the Andante. The Philharmonia Orchestra turns in a powerful performance with especially pronounced contributions from the timpanist.

Symphony No. 4

Takashi Asahina
Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra
27 November 2000
Exton OVCL-00313

Born in 1908, Takashi Asahina was 92 years old at the time of this performance, captured live from Symphony Hall in Osaka. But this sounds like the performance of a conductor half his age. Of the nine recordings of the Bruckner Fourth by Asahina listed in John Berky's discography, this is the fastest at 62 minutes, comparable to the swift, spectacular performances of Klemperer/EMI (both studio and live) and Kertesz/Decca. (Near the other side of the tempo spectrum we also recommend a wonderful performance with Asahina conducting the Japan Philharmonic in Saint Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo, recently issued for the first time on CD.) The Osaka Philharmonic, which Asahina founded in 1947 and conducted until his death in 2001, plays the Bruckner Fourth with fire and passion, bringing out the dramatic elements of the symphony, even approaching the excitement heard in Furtwängler's performances of the more intense 1888 version of the symphony.

Symphony No. 5

Sergiu Celibidache
Munich Philharmonic
10 November 1985
Private video recording

This is an extraordinary performance of Bruckner's monumental Fifth symphony and we are proud to share it with the attendees of this year's event. All the hallmarks of Celibidache's mastery as a conductor are present in spades, like his attention to orchestral color, expansive yet flexible tempi, and a knowledge of the score that few conductors of his or subsequent generations can match. Interestingly, this comes from a few years before Celi's late recordings with the Munich Philharmonic in the late 80s and early 90s, when his tempi became distended at times and some of his recordings were eccentrically slow. Although his interpretation did not vary substantially from his live performance, issued as part of EMI's Bruckner cycle with the same orchestra, dating from 1993, we believe this performance is superior. The audio has been issued on a few pirate labels (see Discography at abruckner.com), but we are fortunate to have obtained a private source for a video of the concert, which adds a fascinating visual dimension to document what Celi achieved with his orchestra.

Symphony No. 6

Riccardo Muti
Berlin Philharmonic
January 1988
EMI CDC 7494082

The name of Riccardo Muti does not come to mind when Bruckner conductors are mentioned and he only has a few of Bruckner's symphonies in his repertoire; he has conducted the First, Second, Fourth (He has made a commercial recording, also with the BPO.), and Seventh symphonies, in addition to the Sixth, which has become his specialty in the Bruckner canon. Here is a performance of great nobility, beautifully phrased, and with a great orchestra at his command to produce one of the most successful commercial recordings of this symphony. In his new role as music director of the Chicago Symphony, a great Bruckner orchestra in their own right, we wonder if Muti will tackle the mighty Eighth and Ninth symphonies which, to the best of our knowledge, he has never conducted.

Symphony No. 7

Herbert Blomstedt
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
23-25 November 2006
Querstand SACD VKJK 0708

Herbert Blomstedt has conducted and recorded most of Bruckner's symphonies in Dresden, in San Francisco, and in Leipzig, including a renowned recording of the Seventh in 1980 with the Staatskapelle Dresden (released on the Denon label) while he was music director of that orchestra. This recording dates from Blomstedt's tenure as music director in Leipzig, a position he held from 1998 to 2005 and which produced, among other things, superb recordings of Brahms' Fourth and Bruckner's Ninth symphonies for Decca. (We played the latter at a previous Brucknerthon.) We find the Leipzig recording even more impressive than the one in Dresden, which is perhaps due to the occasion of a live event, but also to the vividness of the recorded sound, as released on SACD. As usual with Blomstedt, he follows the Haas edition, omitting the cymbal clash and the triangle part at the Adagio's climax, but adding the timpani parts. The notes to this recording include a touching letter from Bruckner to Artur Nikisch, who gave the premiere of the symphony in Leipzig in 1884, with the following quote: "Fällt das Werk durch, so fahre ich bei Nacht und Nebel ab." ("If the work fails, I will leave at dead of night.") We all know this was Bruckner's first great success, but it must have been a nerve-wracking experience for the composer, who was eager to make his name in the music world. The honor fell to Leipzig and this recording shows the special tradition this orchestra has with this symphony.

Symphony No. 8

Herbert von Karajan
Vienna Philharmonic
4 June 1979
DG DVD 00440 073 4395

Bruckner's Eighth was a Karajan specialty and the discography shows that there are no fewer than 17 different recordings, either live or studio, with him at the helm, including four recordings released commercially on CD. To him we owe one of the earliest recordings of the symphony, made in wartime Germany (1944) with the Prussian Staatskapelle that includes the finale recorded in experimental stereo. (Unfortunately the first movement of that recording is missing.) The present recording, recorded at Saint Florian in June 1979, is perhaps his finest achievement with the symphony. Everything seemed to fall into place on this occasion and the ponderousness he sometimes showed on some of his Bruckner performances here gave way to a powerful and comprehensive reading, in terms of execution and depth of interpretation, which leaves little to be desired. Watching this video, it is evident that playing this symphony at Bruckner's resting place must have meant a great deal to the conductor and musicians of this great orchestra.

Symphony No. 9

Eugen Jochum
Berlin Philharmonic
28 November 1977
Palexa CD 0530

Few conductors were as committed to Bruckner's music as Eugen Jochum. He recorded two cycles of the numbered symphonies, the first for DG with the Bavarian Radio Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic and the second for EMI with Staatskapelle Dresden. His DG recording, made in the studio with the BPO in 1964, is a superb achievement; it features every bit of the demonic nature that conductors like Furtwängler brought to the score, but it is, of course, offered in much better sound. This live recording, from thirteen years later, is just as good, but it offers that extra sense of a live occasion. Jochum's way with Bruckner is dramatic, with flexible tempi (in many ways the opposite of conductors like Wand and Haitink, who favor steady tempi) that tend to emphasize that this is living music. We are pleased that the Canadian label Palexa has chosen to make this recording available to the listening public.