Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 in C minor

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WORKS: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
PERFORMER: Chicago SO/Georg Solti
Georg Solti’s new version of Bruckner’s Eighth, recorded live in the Great Hall of the (former) Leningrad Philharmonic in November 1990, uses the Leopold Nowak edition, based on the 1890 revision made by the composer in association with Josef Schalk. Shorter than the Robert Haas 1887/90 version (favoured by Karajan and Haitink), and different in a number of orchestral and structural details, Nowak’s text sanctions cuts in the Adagio and finale regarded by many as damaging to the paragraphing and pacing of the whole.


Solti has given memorable Bruckner performances in the past (I can recall a sensational Fourth Symphony at the Proms back in 1981). I am less persuaded, however, by the present offering. In part it’s impressive and often very beautiful (the Scherzo leaves Karajan earthbound), but in total it somehow doesn’t quite gel. Its climaxes simply happen; they are rarely prepared. The tempo, too, is pushed in a way that makes for urgency rather than a sense of tidal flow. And the structure seems more episodic than sustained – particularly so in the finale (never an easy movement to hold together).

There is little here of the spiritual intensity of Giulini (another Nowak advocate), the cumulative grandeur of Karajan, or the restrained nobility of Haitink. When you consider, questions of edition apart, that Solti gets through the music at 73:59 against Haitink’s 85:27, you have some idea, perhaps, of the thrust of his reading


There is exemplary orchestral playing in all departments (as you would expect), but detail in the tuttis (from the harp of the Adagio to the contrapuntal peroration of the finale) could have been more vividly captured. There is not much physical immediacy. The kettledrums, too, sound muffled and wanting in attack (uncharacteristically for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Ates Orga