2011 Bruckner Marathon

Carlsbad, California
3 September 2011

Program Notes

Overture in G minor

Takashi Asahina
New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra
4 June 1980
Victor NCS-631~634

We kick off this year's marathon with a performance of the Overture in G minor conducted by Takashi Asahina. The Overture is from a series of concerts performed in St. Mary's Cathedral, Tokyo in 1980 in which Asahina conducted the Bruckner Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth, each with a different orchestra. (The Overture was performed in the same concert as the Ninth.) The Fifth and Ninth have been long available on JVC CD (most recently in XRCD24 remasterings), but the remainder of that cycle has only more recently become available on CD on a set sold exclusively by Tower Records in Japan. Asahina's reading of the Overture imbues it with an air of great significance. It is a bombastic, big-boned performance that must have served as a very effective warm-up to the Ninth.

Symphony No. 0

Takashi Asahina
Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
12 May 1982
Fontec FOCD-9230

After a brief pause, we turn to Asahina's performance of the early Symphony in D minor with the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Although Asahina tended towards broader tempi, he could also have his fleet moments, and this Nullte comes from one of the latter. Asahina builds the sound of the orchestra from the bass up; the lower brass and timpani form an effective underpinning while never going outside the bounds of good taste.

Symphony No. 1

Claudio Abbado
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
January 1996
Deutsche Grammophon 453415

Although the name of Claudio Abbado does not usually come to mind when one thinks of the great Brucknerian conductors, he has recorded the First, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Ninth symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic for DG on what now seems to be an abandoned cycle. One of his very first recordings was of the First symphony in 1969, which was part of Decca's complete cycle of the nine numbered Bruckner symphonies with the VPO (with six different conductors). Both of Abbado's recordings follow the Linz version of the symphony. Although there is little conceptual difference between the two performances, we have selected the later recording because of better sound and more immediate impact. Abbado gives us a fresh reading of Das Kecke Beserl (the saucy maiden), as the composer was fond of calling his first symphony.

Symphony No. 2

Ira Levin
Norrlands Opera Orchestra
June 2010
To be published

American conductor Ira Levin, now living in Berlin, has become a strong proponent of the first editions of Bruckner's symphonies, and we included his recording of first edition of the Sixth in our line-up 3 years ago. Most recently he has turned his attention to the 1892 edition of the Second, and it is a performance of that edition that we present now. In years past, the 1892 edition has typically been dismissed as inauthentic, with the Haas edition holding place of honor as the authentic score. It is now known that nearly the opposite is true, and Levin's recording gives us the opportunity to hear the first edition with our own ears. Even for the experienced Brucknerian, there will be few textual surprises, with the possible exception of the "inflated" (according to Cooke) ending of the first movement, which Levin pulls off to outstanding effect, and the greatly improved trombone parts at the end of the finale. Throughout the symphony, Levin's tempi are ideal, and the orchestra delivers a fine performance.

Symphony No. 3

Eugen Jochum
Staatskapelle Dresden
22-27 January 1977
EMI 62935

Eugen Jochum, one of the most renowned Brucknerian conductors of all time, recorded two Bruckner cycles (excepting Die Nullte, which he never recorded). His first cycle for DG, made from the late 50s to the early 60s, used the Bavarian Radio Symphony (of which he was principal conductor at the onset of the cycle) and the Berlin Philharmonic. For his second cycle for EMI dating from the late 70s to the early 80s, he selected the Staatskapelle Dresden, an orchestra that is usually placed after Vienna and Berlin among the great Brucknerian bands, but which nevertheless has a long tradition in performing the music of the master from Ansfelden. One distinctive feature of the EMI cycle is the brass of the Staatkapelle, which features the expressive vibrato of the Eastern European orchestras of yesteryear (they don't sound like that anymore!) Jochum follows the 1889 version, which is considerably shorter than the earlier versions from 1873 and 1877, but makes a compelling case for it, with committed playing from the Dresdeners and the usual tempo manipulations that were a hallmark of Jochum's way with Bruckner.

Symphony No. 4

Otto Klemperer
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
1 April 1966
EMI 66866

Otto Klemperer made a blazing recording of the Fourth symphony with the Concertgebouw (released on CD by Tahra), which we played at our first marathon in 1999. That recording belies Klemperer's reputation, among some, of a plodding conductor. He later made another recording with the Philharmonia, which can be considered more mainstream by comparison. The present recording comes from three years later and, although closer to the Philharmonia recording in spirit, the old magician seemed to summon all his energies to produce a recording that cannot be faulted in excitement, precision and gravitas. We suspect that in a blind listening test this recording would prove to be a favorite among many Brucknerians and we are pleased to share it with you this year.

Symphony No. 5

Herbert von Karajan
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
11 December 1976
Deutsche Grammophon 415985

Karajan recorded his Bruckner cycle with the Berlin Philharmonic between 1975 and 1981 and made numerous other recordings of the Fourth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth symphonies, most notably with the VPO. He made the first stereo recording of a Bruckner symphony in 1944. (The finale was recorded in experimental stereo, and that recording, together with monaural recordings of the second and third movements made 3 months earlier, has been released by Koch -- see the discography at abruckner.com.) This recording of the mighty Fifth is arguably the strongest in his DG BPO cycle, and it is better than his live recording with the Vienna Symphony on Orfeo by several notches. This is one of Karajan's best achievements with Bruckner's music, with the BPO brass displaying the blended sound that became Karajan's trademark in his later years with that orchestra.

Symphony No. 6

Sylvain Cambreling
SWR Symphony Orchestra
16-23 January 1998
Glor Classics GC 09241

French conductor Sylvain Cambreling was principal conductor of the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg from 1999 to the end of the 2010-2011 season. He is currently Principal Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, and he will lead the Stuttgart State Opera beginning in 2012. Trained as a trombonist at the Paris Conservatoire, Cambreling has been involved in conducting much contemporary music ever since he was invited by Boulez to conduct the Ensemble Contemporain in 1976. With the SWR Orchestra, Cambreling has now recorded the Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth symphonies by Bruckner for the Glor Classics label (with others possibly awaiting release). Although he generally follows swift tempi in this radiant rendering of the Sixth (he performs it in under 53 minutes, which is considerably faster than the norm), he is not lacking in expression, particularly in the lovely Adagio, one of Bruckner's most inspired. We look forward to more Bruckner recordings from Cambreling.

Symphony No. 7

Giuseppe Sinopoli
Staatskapelle Dresden
September 1991
Deutsche Grammophon 435786

Giuseppe Sinopoli was principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden from 1992 until 2001, a tenure interrupted by his sudden death from a heart attack on 20 April 2001 while conducting a performance of Verdi's Aida in Berlin. With the Staatskapelle he recorded the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, Eighth and Ninth symphonies for DG, of which we have played the Third and Fifth (a tour de force) at previous marathons. In addition, there exists a live recording of the Sixth with the Philharmonia under his direction. On the tenth anniversary year of his passing, we have selected his recording of the Seventh because of its expressive power and superlative playing. The Dresden orchestra had made a highly successful recording of the same symphony under Blomstedt for Denon almost a decade earlier (a more sober reading by comparison), but this recording under Sinopoli is arguably finer, even though one can hear some occasional spotlighting on the strings and brass by the DG engineers.

Symphony No. 8

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra
25 March 2010
Denon COGQ-47~48

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is one of only five conductors who have recorded all eleven of Bruckner's symphonies (as listed in John Berky's discography at abruckner.com), so it is of some significance that he has begun what could ultimately be a second cycle, based on live performances with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo. Thus far the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth symphonies have been released on SACD, and performances of the Eighth and Ninth from slightly different dates have been released on Blu-ray Disc. Here we present Skrowaczewski's SACD Eighth, which was recorded at a set of concerts marking his retirement from Principal Conductor of the orchestra. (His successor in that role is Sylvain Cambreling.)

As in his earlier recording with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, Skrowaczewski's Eighth is a mixture of the Haas and Nowak editions; however, in this latest recording he even incorporates some elements of the first edition of 1892. Skrowaczewski's tempi here are faster than those of the other performances of his listed in the discography. The Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra plays idiomatically, with crisp brass, thundering timpani, and soaring strings.

Symphony No. 9

Fabio Luisi
Staatskapelle Dresden
6 & 8 May 2007
Sony 88697299642

Fabio Luisi served as principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden from 2004 to 2010, succeeding Bernard Haitink, who served as caretaker of the orchestra after Sinopoli's sudden passing. Mid-way through his tenure he made this recording, one of the best-sounding Ninths in the discography. Luisi gives us a spacious, sober performance that, while not showing some of the rubato and tempo manipulations we have come to love from masters such as Schuricht and Jochum, turns out to be very effective in conveying the depth, terror and nobility of this music. Luisi resigned his post in Dresden over a dispute with management in 2010, which is a pity as it would have been very interesting to hear more Bruckner from these forces.