Bruckner, Wagner: Symphony No. 8, Wesendonck Lieder

COMPOSERS: Bruckner,Wagner
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Symphony No. 8, Wesendonck Lieder
PERFORMER: Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano); BBCSO/Reginald Goodall
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4086-2 ADD
Reginald Goodall’s discography is not exactly large (see Legends), hence the welcome warranted by this warts-and-all live recording of Bruckner. The famous imprecision of Goodall’s beat sometimes foxes the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s players at this 1969 Prom, but the stately sweep of the music-making all but makes up for the occasional ragged ensemble. Here was a master of the long-breathed structural arch: the tension in the long slow movement never wavers and culminates in the most shattering of climaxes. The Symphony as a whole may last some 13 minutes longer than Boulez’s recent DG account, but slow never equals static and, despite an unhelpful recording, the deliberate unfolding of Bruckner’s layered textures remains unsurpassed. That very length sends the finale on to a second disc, making way for generous Wagnerian couplings from a 1971 Royal Festival Hall concert.

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Goodall and Stokowski were opposites when it came to Wagner. There’s nothing of the former’s stately pacing in these examples of Stokowski’s art. Although late recordings, from 1967-8, all but the Rienzi Overture are unfortunately in mono, which does not aid the Technicolor range the conductor habitually sought in this music. But if you like your Wagner bombastic, you’ll enjoy these rumbustious excerpts from Die Meistersinger and Götterdämmerung, with a sturdy Brünnhilde from Berit Lindholm in the Immolation Scene.

Not bombast but brilliance marks John Ogdon’s performances of the two Liszt concertos, from 1967 and 1971. There’s no lack of weight to the playing, but his mesmerising pianism never sinks to effect for its own sake and crispness and variety of tone colour are amply displayed.

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I’ve long been an admirer of Rudolf Kempe, but there is something rather mannered about his 1964 Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony, putting the breaks on phrases in a way that seems too considered to be deemed rubato; the LSO is on splendid form, however. A Prom performance of the Janácek Sinfonietta from 1974 is less well played by the BBC SO, but is a memento of a burgeoning relationship cut short by Kempe’s untimely death two years later.