MOZART Clarinet Concerto BRUCKNER Symphony No 8
There was a time, not so long ago, when Bruckner on disc was the province of ‘major’ orchestras and conductors. Not so nowadays. Both of these productions have much to tell us, Gerd Schaller’s Philharmonie Festiva version especially, as it features the only recording of the as yet unpublished 1888 variant of the score, edited by William Carragan and incorporating a version of the Adagio edited by Dermot Gault and Takanobu Kawasaki. For his Avi recording, Nicholas Milton has opted for the familiar 1890 version as edited by Leopold Nowak and published in 1955. Although still only in its teens, the Innviertel Symphony Orchestra produces a warm, homogeneous sound, nicely balanced by Nicholas Milton, who, at the start of the symphony, draws from his orchestra playing of great beauty. Granted, the cataclysmic moments later on might not summon quite the level of visceral excitement commanded by the likes of, say, Celibidache, Giulini, Janowski, Jochum, Tennstedt or Maazel (to limit my comparisons just to this particular edition of the score) but the message still comes across. The Scherzo, which, according to a letter Bruckner sent to the conductor Felix Weingartner (quoted in Profil’s excellent booklet-note for Schaller’s recording), represents Der Deutsche Michel (literally ‘The German Michel’, the German equivalent of John Bull or Uncle Sam), is bright and straightforward, and only at the start of the Adagio did I feel that Milton was allowing his basses to pulse rather too forcefully. I loved the finale, though, the way Milton holds the arguments on a tight rein without compromising excitement (try the finale from 5'48") and by the end you certainly feel you’ve enjoyed the whole story. Not a front-runner, then, but a contender, certainly.
Turn to Gerd Schaller and Philharmonie Festiva, and what you hear is in effect a dramatic working prototype. This 1888 recorded premiere is in many respects akin to the similarly expansive 1887 version as recorded by Frans Welser-Möst (ArtHaus), Georg Tintner (Naxos), Eliahu Inbal (Warner), Dennis Russell Davies (Arte Nova) and others. The differences between this and what we normally hear are far too copious to enumerate in detail. Themes, motifs, harmonies, key aspects of scoring and sequences all differ significantly (as do the first movement’s heroic closing pages and the Scherzo’s Trio), the effect of this earlier version being untamed and at times unkempt. An extraordinarily gripping listen all the same, its highlight being the 29-minute Adagio, where there’s some truly magnificent horn-writing on offer. Try from 12'22" in the Adagio, where the brass, harp and woodwinds take over the second subject, with the strings coming in later. Wonderful! And the closing minutes of the finale, too, where from 18'56", you hear ethereal winds, pizzicato strings and timpani and, later on, some extreme dynamics and a very abrupt ending. Once heard, not easily forgotten; and Schaller’s well-played performance is extremely convincing.
Schaller’s coupling is some haunting and at times powerful funeral music for Bruckner by Otto Kitzler (a teacher who Bruckner regarded with great fondness) as orchestrated by Schaller himself, while Nicholas Milton offers a fluent and shapely reading of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto where the superb soloist is Matthias Schorn, principal clarinettist of the Vienna Philharmonic. Schaller’s set is the more musically significant of the two, no doubt about that, but the Innviertel SO’s Bruckner Eighth is also well worth hearing.