Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (1884-7 version)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner
WORKS: Symphony No. 8 (1884-7 version)
PERFORMER: Linz Bruckner Orchestra, Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 62856 2
There’s no doubt that Bruckner refined his Eighth Symphony when he revised it, in the process incorporating several unique strokes of genius – like the quiet, dying-away ending of the first movement. But this unusually authoritative performance of the first complete version suggests that even if Bruckner hadn’t revised the Eighth, it might still be regarded as one of the outstanding symphonic monuments of the 19th century.

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Listening to the Tintner (Naxos) or Inbal (Teldec) recordings you sometimes get the impression that the players still have the familiar score at the back of their minds. But the Linz Bruckner Orchestra sounds thoroughly convinced and committed to this earlier version, so that it never sounds merely like a ‘work in progress’, or an ‘interesting’ stage on the route to full mastery. Passages like the blazing major key ending of the first movement and the much longer and more elaborate strings-and-harp passage near the end of the Adagio are surprisingly stirring.

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What Dennis Russell Davies and the orchestra present here is not so much Bruckner’s first version as his first vision of the work. As such it’s remarkably compelling and moving. You may ultimately decide – as I have – that you prefer Bruckner’s final version. But after this new version the choice is no longer so clear-cut. Whether I would have been quite so impressed by the Adagio’s climax if Davies hadn’t removed Bruckner’s original multiple cymbal clashes is another matter. But every Brucknerian should hear this – revealing is definitely the word. Stephen Johnson