BRUCKNER Symphony No 7 (arr Chamber Ensemble)
Trevor Pinnock and the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble – who have recorded symphonies by Mahler and Bruckner in arrangements made for, or inspired by, Arnold Schoenberg’s Verein für musikalische Privataufführungen (Society for Private Music Performances) – have some new rivals on the block. Henk Guittart founded the Schoenberg Ensemble in 1974, and Gruppo
Montebello – Italian for ‘beautiful mountain’; in German ‘Schoenberg’ – is the branding he gives all his recent projects: this incarnation of the ensemble was pieced together from faculty members of the Banff Centre, who recorded their album against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains – a not inappropriate setting for Bruckner.
This chamber Bruckner could, of course, be no one’s idea of a definitive Seventh – but performances of pint-size Romanticism need to do more than trade off novelty value and, by that yardstick, Guittart has pulled off something rather special. Schoenberg originally carved the transcription duties up between three of his composition students – Hanns Eisler (movts 1 and 3), Erwin Stein (2) and Karl Rankl (4) – and Guittart, using the Nowak edition as his point of reference, has added a flute part and reconfigured the division of labour between the original harmonium and piano parts.
It’s a pity that the Polyfilla piano takes the melodic lead in the Scherzo – psychologically, you’re reminded that you are listening to an arrangement – but otherwise this reduced-fat Bruckner is boldly objectifying and intimate. Slimmed-down strings mean the opening tremolo unavoidably implies a pulse (I was reminded of John Adams’s Shaker Loops), but the harmonic weight is intriguingly redistributed elsewhere. Counterpoint begins to override harmonic blocks, especially during the finale’s Byzantine closing pages, while the gravity of the Adagio comes with added vulnerability.
In all honesty I prefer the sensual allure of Pinnock’s small-scale Debussy Prélude à L’après-midi d’un faune (Linn, 7/13). But this playing is very classy too – and other recordings of this chamber Bruckner Seventh lack the sunshine of that extra flute.