Bruckner Symphony No. 7 in E
Donald Runnicles’s debut recording for Hyperion is a very impressive achievement. He has established a strong rapport with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, inspiring them to deliver playing of great refinement and emulating the burnished tones that are more often associated with Central European orchestras.
Contrary to expectations, Runnicles doesn’t view Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony in quasi-Wagnerian terms, opting instead to emphasise the work’s strong relationship to an earlier tradition, in particular Schubert. He ensures that the musical argument flows naturally and without the kind of stop-start process that is favoured by some conductors. This approach actually helps to give the Symphony as a whole a greater sense of architectural cohesion. In so many other performances, you feel that the relatively short Scherzo and Finale cannot possibly match the emotional and structural weight of the earlier part of the work. But Runnicles triumphantly avoids this trap by maintaining a sense of forward momentum throughout the entire Symphony. This is most strikingly demonstrated in the first movement, which follows Bruckner’s marking of Allegro moderato to the letter. Yet in no sense does the tempo feel unduly rushed, and the resultant fluidity of line enables moments, such as the return of the main idea over a sustained timpani roll near the close, to attain even greater emotional intensity.
Hyperion’s recording is eminently satisfying; it encompasses a wide dynamic range while enabling inner details to come through the texture, even in full-blown tuttis. My only very minor quibble is that the upper string tremolandos that open the first movement and Finale are so quiet as to be almost inaudible. Highly recommended.