Bruckner Symphony No 8

An exceptionally fine Bruckner Eighth from one of the composer’s greatest living advocates

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Bruckner Symphony No 8

  • Symphony No. 8

Few readings in recent years have been more assiduously toured or generally acclaimed than Wand’s Bruckner Eighth yet Wand himself has struggled to better on record the exact and far­seeing account of the symphony he made with the Cologne RSO in 1979. His 1987 Lübeck Cathedral recording complemented the earlier one without displacing it and his 1993 Hamburg remake was oddly uninspired. More recently‚ he has been harnessing the Berlin Bruckner sound to his own particular ends‚ a potentially Sisyphean task for a man nearing his 90th birthday‚ but one to which he has gamely addressed himself.
And the rewards are here. This new Eighth is exceptionally fine. When in the Scherzo you sense that the mountains themselves are beginning to dance‚ you know you are onto a good thing; on this occasion‚ Olympus itself seems to have caught the terpsichorean bug. Not that anything is exaggerated or overblown. After all these years‚ Wand knows where each peak is and how best to approach it. His reading is broader than it was 20 years ago‚ which is perhaps just as well given the Berliners’ own predilections‚ yet nowhere is there any sense of unwanted stasis.
Wand draws from the orchestra‚ the brass and strings in particular‚ sound of great power and transparency which the engineers have translated in a recording of uncommon reach and splendour. The Berlin woodwinds have less to offer. The artistry of individual players is not in question but the group as a whole rarely seems to influence events as it did in the days when the likes of Koch‚ Zöller and Leister ruled the roost. All credit to the Berliners‚ incidentally‚ for making so rapid a recovery from the ministrations of Bruckner therapist Nikolaus Harnoncourt whose ludicrously fussy ‘re­think’ of the Eighth they had recorded only months previously.
Wand has long held a place among the elect where this symphony is concerned. Whether this is a ‘greater’ performance than any of those listed above it is impossible to say. My postbag tells me that Boulez and Barbirolli‚ both quicker than Wand IV‚ have recently won fresh converts to the symphony. The three recordings by the Vienna Philharmonic (surely the Bruckner orchestra) are all incomparable in their way: the 1944 Furtwängler with its unique sense of spiritual terribilità‚ the 1984 Giulini (closest to Wand IV but with greater spiritual rigour in the Adagio) and the 1989 Karajan (closest to Wand I in its plain­spoken mastery of the whole). Suffice it to say‚ this is a grand and worthy memento for the tens of thousands who have heard Wand conduct the symphony in the concert hall over the last decade. Whether it will be his last Bruckner Eighth‚ only time will tell.

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