ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 Live at the Salzburg Festival
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Christoph von Dohnányi
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 431
Bruckner’s mature symphonies, in fact all of them from No. 3 onwards, have always seemed to me to present so many problems, with their famous silences in the middle of movements, the odd individual structures that they have, their startling innovations and complexities, that one might expect good, let alone great performances of them to be rare. In fact Bruckner gets many wonderful performances both in the concert hall and in the studio. A great – yet another – performance of his last, the Ninth, was given last year in Salzburg by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnányi, and fortunately preserved in this superb-sounding recording. If state-of-the-art sound is what you require, you won’t do better than this, though Carlo Maria Giulini is equally magnificent in his Vienna Philharmonic recording, which still sounds very fine; and Simon Rattle too, though I find the ‘completion’ of the fourth movement, which he includes, an abomination.
Dohnányi realises all aspects of this extraordinary work, both its gaunt grandeur, as in the opening theme, and its warmth and fragility, as in its second subject. The Scherzo lacks, perhaps, the last degree of vindictiveness which some accounts provide. But the sublime third movement has everything, including that terrifying last climax, which builds to so brutal a dissonance that no other composer has matched it since. The uneasy dying away after the awe-struck silence is perfectly managed, and all told the performance is as devastating an experience as it should be, and one of the most powerful that the whole literature of music can provide. Michael Tanner