WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 466 653-2
This is one of the finest recordings of the shorter Nowak version of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony to appear in a long time. Indeed, it’s so convincing that it persuaded me to put aside my doubts about the edition itself, at least for the duration of this disc. Chailly’s Bruckner Eighth can stand comparison even with the Olympian 1984 Giulini version (DG). In fact those who like this Symphony less rarefied and more urgent than Giulini makes it may well prefer Chailly, and not just because he manages to get the entire work on to one disc. Although he takes nearly ten minutes less than Giulini, Chailly never sounds hurried, even in the long and difficult finale. He gives the phrases space to breathe, and he builds tension magnificently in long crescendos without feeling the need to jam his foot down on the accelerator.
The playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra is magnificent: sumptuous, warm, yet far from homogenised. Brass, wind and strings emerge in layers – it’s a three-dimensional orchestral sound, magnificently recorded – with details coming to light that I’d never fully noticed before in over 30 years’ acquaintance with this Symphony. At the same time, it can be a very moving performance, especially in the great Adagio, which comes across as a continuous outpouring of orchestral song. The Bruckner who revered Schubert and found inspiration for the Adagio’s first theme in Schubert’s ‘The Wanderer’ is as much in evidence as the consummate musical architect. Recommended – and not just to the Nowak faction. Stephen Johnson