Bruckner: Symphony No. 7

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Saito Kinen Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
CATALOGUE NO: 470 657-2
Seiji Ozawa’s Bruckner Seventh is oddly ambiguous in effect. On one level it’s very successful: well paced and proportioned, each movement having one true climax – however often anticipated in the course of the argument. The playing is highly accomplished, with rich textures beautifully balanced. The first movement and finale aren’t too slow (a common failing in modern performances), but then they don’t feel unduly hurried, either. And while the scherzo is relatively measured, you can feel the presence of the country dance form that inspired it, even in the slower central trio section. Listening to this Seventh, you’re left in no doubt of Bruckner’s reverence for Wagner – by contrast with, say, Günter Wand, whose performances tend to root Bruckner more in the Schubertian symphonic lineage. But, controlled as Ozawa’s performance is, there’s an over-insistent quality about the expression, as though Ozawa were trying to squeeze every last drop of Romantic meaning from each phrase. Underlying it all is a kind of nervy intensity, even in the brass playing, that makes it all rather overbearing. Among recent versions, Wand and the Berlin Philharmonic (RCA) is an excellent antidote: grandeur and intensity balanced by natural-sounding phrasing and an underlying sense of calm. But I find I keep going back to the 1971 Karajan (also with the Berlin Philharmonic) – a little more spacious than Ozawa in the first movement, but with a deeper sense of purpose and expression which, for all its urgency at times, never feels forced or overwrought. Stephen Johnson

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