Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

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LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 8
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 446 659-2
‘May it find grace’, wrote Bruckner to Hermann Levi, his loyal supporter and the first conductor of the Seventh Symphony, when he sent him the Eighth for perusal. Levi’s inability to comprehend the work shattered the composer’s already fragile self-confidence and five years of revision followed, which duly left the history of music with an incomplete Ninth. The Eighth was given a triumphant premiere by Hans Richter in 1892 and either the December weather or Bruckner’s eccentricity induced the composer to present the conductor with 48 steaming doughnuts at the stage door after 85 minutes of exhausting work. Richter’s Vienna Philharmonic probably came nowhere near the wonderful playing here under Haitink, and more’s the pity, for Bruckner deserved no less. Apart from the Scherzo, where the repeated motif tends to hurry towards the barline, and a non-musical sound six minutes into the first movement, this is a monumental and spacious account with some magical moments (the first entry of the Wagner tubas, the sublime harp playing in the Trio and Adagio) from a fine orchestra. See also my review of Knappertsbusch’s 1963 Munich performance in Reissues. Christopher Fifield