Brukner: Symphony No 8

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bruckner
LABELS: ATMA Classique
WORKS: Symphony No. 8 in D minor; Symphony No. 7 in E – Adagio
PERFORMER: Metropolitan Orchestra/ Yannick Nézet-Séguin
CATALOGUE NO: ACD2 2513

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As in Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Bruckner No. 7 (originally reviewed in June 2007, whose Adagio is included as a makeweight on the second disc), the humanity of this approach is very welcome.

The prevailing tendency in Bruckner performances these days – and in this symphony more than most – is to emphasise the ‘cathedrals in sound’ aspect at the expense of emotional drama. Let’s not forget that this was a composer who described himself as ‘fiery and romantic’, and that several early commentators found this symphony ‘Faustian’.

Nézet-Séguin does seem aware of that, and here, as in the Seventh, he is able to balance expressive suppleness with a firm enough sense of structure, relishing the spacious acoustic without allowing it to weigh the music down. And like many eminent Brucknerian conductors he uses the fuller Haas edition of the score – less purist, more conjectural than the later Novak version, but structurally more persuasive.

Nézet-Séguin’s approach works best in the first movement’s desolate coda, the very Schubertian central trio of the Scherzo, and above in all in the Adagio, which is very moving indeed and beautifully shaped – a cry from the heart of the lonely Romantic wanderer, yet with Bruckner’s touching simplicity very much present too. I’m tempted to recommend the set for this alone.

But it isn’t all so convincing: the finale in particular flags from time to time. For balance of traditional-monumental with personal urgency and vision, Günter Wand with the Berlin Philharmonic remains the best modern option.

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But Nézet-Séguin is clearly developing into a very interesting Bruckner conductor, and he may yet displace a few big names in this symphony. Stephen Johnson