During the interval of last night’s concert by the London Philharmonic and Stanisław Skrowaczewski, I chanced across my former boss, Peter Bingle, at the main bar in the Royal Festival Hall. ‘What is it about old conductors and Bruckner?’ he mused. The remark proved prescient. This symphony played a pivotal role in the life of the conductor (see above) and he certainly has his own conception of it. The first two movements were deliberate in pace, perhaps the slowest I have ever heard in the concert hall, but this was never the enforced languor of age. The symphonic argument unfolded slowly, patiently and with all the evidence of an experienced ear, always coherent, never faltering. The strings sounded as luminous as it’s possible to sound in this still-tough acoustic and the brass were rock solid. Inner voices, sometimes lost in the melee, spoke clearly. A couple of early disagreements over dynamics with the winds were soon forgotten.
In fact, the LPO were in tremendous form, right across the stage. The scherzo had just the right admixture of coarseness and refinement, but nothing could have prepared us all for the buoyant, sprightly finale. The musicians seemed every bit as delighted as the audience by the end, returning to the podium once the hall had cleared for a ‘patch’ session that hardly seemed necessary, though just a few minor retakes must certainly have lifted this account from the contingent ‘here and now’ an into a document that will surely stake its claim amongst the greatest Bruckner recordings of all. I never believed I would hear an account of a Bruckner symphony that rivalled Günter Wand at his best, but last night I did. In fact, Günter never much cared for this symphony and perhaps that is why ‘Stan’ made it so special.
Before the interval we had been treated to a rapt performance of Mozart’s Turkish Violin Concerto, played by Hilary Hahn. The audience was so intent and so bewitched, and the playing so refined, that for the first time in quarter of a century of Festival Hall concert-going I noticed the slight rumble of trains passing by outside. Truly an evening to remember!