WORKS: Symphony No. 8 in C minor
PERFORMER: Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
CATALOGUE NO: 5 57406 2
It’s hard to believe this is the conductor who had such scorn heaped on him during his tenure with the London Philharmonic, a decade ago. While I can’t say I liked everything about this performance, it has a clarity and freshness of conception that have obviously come from long, thoughtful acquaintance with Bruckner. If that sounds a bit dry, he can also be impassioned, atmospheric and very exciting. And while a few details jarred for me – the heavy, detached violin emphases towards the Adagio’s first big climax, or the breakneck pace for the start of the finale – it says a lot for the strength of Franz Welser-Möst’s conception that he soon manages to grab the attention again. He makes an excellent case for taking the first movement as a real Allegro moderato (Bruckner’s marking), and despite getting off to a slightly alarming start, the finale is very compelling – a real test of a Bruckner interpreter.
In the end he doesn’t have quite the wholeness of vision or the depth of personal involvement of Günter Wand with the Berlin Philharmonic, or the rounded maturity of Riccardo Chailly and the Concertgebouw (who, like Welser-Möst, use the slightly more compact Novak version of the score). Wand remains my top recommendation, though this is clearly a Bruckner conductor with a very promising future. The playing of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra is wonderful – expressive, polished (apart from a couple of tiny bloops in the finale) and with wonderful deep, rich sound, excellently captured by the recording. Stephen Johnson