Bruckner: Symphony No. 9

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Bruckner: Symphony No. 9
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 479 3441


Sometimes a reviewer has to take a big step backwards and try to forget the flood of associations that comes with a disc. It was pure accident that conductor Claudio Abbado ended what was to be his own last concert at the 2013 Lucerne Festival with Bruckner’s final, unfinished symphony, whose great Adagio Bruckner himself referred to as his ‘farewell to life’. But of course, as soon as one knows that, expectations soar. Yet one of the remarkable features of this Bruckner Ninth is the way it dismisses preconceptions almost as soon as the horns start intoning the quietly portentous opening theme. Abbado’s feeling for the way the music unfolds, despite all the seeming dislocations and diversions, his understanding of the course of Bruckner’s final ‘passionate pilgrimage’, is as authoritative as Günter Wand’s, yet quite different in spirit. Like Wand he has the ability to allow just enough flexibility in the basic pulse to prevent it from becoming metronomic, but without distorting the sense of the music’s underlying flow. However where Wand’s Bruckner stares climactically into the abyss, Abbado frames the nightmare vistas with visions of tender, sometimes exquisite consolation. This Bruckner’s faith may shake at times, ambiguities and dissonances may remain unresolved at the end, but ultimately the bedrock is still firm.

Remarkable too is the way Abbado balances sophistication and simplicity, sensuous ripeness and innocent clarity, the monumental and the childlike – all the paradoxical qualities implied by the adjective ‘Brucknerian’. Even at its most darkly imposing, the Scherzo remembers Bruckner’s roots in Upper Austrian dance music. The sound of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is beautiful without being too plush, powerful without being oppressive. Again and again individual voices stand out in the texture – there is some especially fine solo oboe playing here. More than anything else however, Abbado convinces that Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony is complete as it stands in its three movements – that the triumphant ‘Hymn of Praise’ Bruckner planned to end the symphony would have been superfluous even if he had managed to write it down. After hearing a performance like this it’s tempting to conclude that Providence really did intervene after all, thereby preventing Bruckner from spoiling what is in itself a near-perfect experience.

On top of all this, the recording is excellent. Two dates are given in the booklet notes: Abbado’s last concert (26 August), and another from five days earlier, which I’m presuming was used for editorial patching. Whatever, the experience is seamless. This is a Bruckner Ninth I could recommend happily to anyone.


Stephen Johnson