Bruckner: Symphony No. 7

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Orchestre des Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
Conductors coming from the early side of the musical fence bring particular qualities to later music. Philippe Herreweghe has a lightness of tread right from the opening cello and horn theme: it isn’t a wallow, but has real forward thrust – it is after all marked ‘Allegro moderato’. Furtwängler treats it in the same way, though his dynamic shaping is more exaggerated, and vibrato more omnipresent. Not that Herreweghe is inexpressive: he’s acutely aware of the contrast between legato and staccato, and his rubato is always an organic part of the music. His Adagio may be faster than other conductors’, and he doesn’t linger over rests, but the climax when it arrives is well-earned. There isn’t the sheer beauty of sound that Karajan encourages, but the orchestral balance is more naturally achieved on period instruments, with the Wagner tubas making a real effect. In the scherzo, there’s an absolutely inexorable drive in the outer sections, and a contrasted lingering in the trio, with some characterful and clean-limbed wind playing – the flute has a particular crystalline beauty. The same momentum informs the finale, and it’s here, most of all, that Herreweghe strips off the discoloured layers of varnish that have made this symphony a rich-toned old master for so long. Not that I’d want to be without the insights of Furtwängler, Wand or Walter, but for those coming to Bruckner for the first time, this recording has a fresh natural quality which could well make converts. In this sense, and with the naturally balanced recording, it’s a benchmark. Martin Cotton