ALBUM TITLE: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Aarhus SO/James Loughran
CATALOGUE NO: DACOCD 655
These are all live performances, dating from 1984, 2005 and 2007. The sound for Tennstedt is the least good: analogue in origin, the climaxes don’t open out with the weight and sonority that Bruckner needs. That isn’t helped by the Royal Festival Hall either, whereas Loughran has a trump card in the spacious acoustic of Aarhus Cathedral. Haitink occupies the middle ground, with the generous, but not over-reverberant Orchestra Hall especially suited to the burnished Chicago brass.
What of the performances? Loughran might seem to be the odd man out here, but he has a track record in Bruckner dating from his time at the Hallé. His approach is middle of the road, with tempos that aren’t extreme, and his orchestra has a naturally lean sound. But the cathedral acoustic gives his reading an overall sense of spaciousness which it might not otherwise have, and the balance allows you to hear everything that’s going on, including imprecisions in some of the cruelly exposed high string writing. He uses some elegant string portamento in the opening of the Adagio, and mostly has a sure sense of pacing, though some of the transitional passages aren’t quite purposeful enough. Tennstedt is altogether more urgent – his slightly faster timing is entirely due to his keeping the music moving forwards, with an energy in the phrasing that Haitink never quite equals. In the slow movement, the LPO strings may not be a match for their Chicago counterparts in sheer beauty of sound, but you feel that the tension in their playing is better at expressing the anguish in the music: Bruckner’s mourning of Wagner’s death. Haitink is altogether too safe for much of the time, perhaps because his CD is a conflation of four performances, so that the spontaneity has been edited out together with the rough edges.
A combination of Tennstedt’s white-hot direction, the technical assurance of the Chicago Orchestra, and the warmth of the Aarhus acoustic would be ideal. As it is, all three must yield to Blomstedt’s recent recording, also live, with its full sound, subtle approach to rubato and dynamic flexibility. Martin Cotton