WORKS: Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 437 518-2 DDD
There is somehow a taste of sweet irony whenever the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra plays Bruckner, for it invariably does so magnificently and with a devotion and commitment seeming to strive to make up for its shabby treatment of the composer a century ago (though to be fair it did belatedly recognise his genius before he died). Bruckner’s last three symphonies were his greatest; the first of these, the Seventh, was the symphony that made him famous. He was 60 when it was premiered by Nikisch in Leipzig, birthplace of Wagner, whose influence pervades the work.
Bruckner was actually writing the slow movement when news came of Wagner’s death on 13 February 1883, and the Adagio’s coda became a memorial to the musician he most revered. On the contentious issue of whether Bruckner really intended timpani, cymbals and triangle at the Adagio’s climax, Abbado uses Nowak’s edition, which includes the three instruments. The performance is full of devotion and meticulous attention to sound colour and balance. The great slabs of Brucknerian textures are wonderfully controlled, yet unleashed at the climaxes. The Scherzo is exhilaratingly fast, the Trio rather steady, the finale superbly shaped.
On this hearing Abbado has more than earned a place alongside the best living interpreters of Bruckner (Tennstedt, Solti, Wand) with this crafted account of the Seventh Symphony. Christopher Fifield