Symphony No. 8 in C minor
Vienna Philharmonic/Christian Thielemann
Sony Classical 19439786582 80:48 mins
This is Bruckner’s last completed symphony, and for me it remains the greatest of his works. Since he came into fashion there have been many recordings of it, and this one takes a certain kind of reading and performance absolutely to the limit. In the first few minutes you have to be overwhelmed by the sheer sound of the Vienna Philharmonic, (which we named one of the best orchestras in the world), from the first hushed strings to the full brass enunciation of the main theme of the movement. But as the work continues, and perhaps above all in the sublime third movement, I found I was more impressed by the splendour of the sound than by the profundity of the music.
There should always be a certain rawness in Bruckner’s brass, but here all we have is a staggering display of the instruments of the orchestra. The Vienna Philharmonic can never have sounded so splendid, but as so often with Christian Thielemann structure and depth are sacrificed to glamour, and the end result is the opposite of what Bruckner intended: the amazing end of the work, with the main themes finally united, is as grand and empty as the last minutes of Das Rheingold – but Wagner intended this in what he wrote, and Bruckner emphatically did not.