Bruckner: Symphony No. 9

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WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: London Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink


The more you get to know this Symphony, you find – at least in my experience – that it is even greater than you thought. It’s also more perplexing, the most extreme example of mood-swings in the whole of Bruckner’s output. The chief task for the conductor is to give the impression that there is no possible resolution to its conflicts, they are so obdurate and violent;
and at the same time to communicate the very faintest hope that perhaps there is peace beyond all this violent dissonance.

It’s a dissonance that reaches an almost intolerable climax a few minutes before the end and then, after a stunned silence (there are many in this Symphony) nearly makes a return, before reluctantly yielding to the possible peace of the last bars. Those final five minutes only take to an extreme the tensions which have pervaded the entire work, from the opening void, the monumental first theme, the surging long contrasting music, and the annihilating scherzo. No wonder Bruckner was unable to write a last movement: and the various attempts to complete it for him fill me with distaste.

Bernard Haitink has lived with Bruckner the whole of his conducting life, and has not usually struck me as one of the finest interpreters of this troubling oeuvre. Perhaps a long struggle to realise Bruckner’s greatness is the best preparation for being able to achieve it. At any rate, this performance from last year with the London Symphony Orchestra on stupendous form seems to mark a pitch of understanding and communication which it wouldn’t be possible to surpass.  There are several performances of this work that I take as doing it justice, and this ranks among them.


Michael Tanner