BRUCKNER Symphony No 8 (Jansons)
The music of Bruckner has been increasingly prominent in the repertoire of Mariss Jansons and Simon Rattle over the past decade or so but this is the first time either conductor has recorded the Eighth Symphony with an established orchestra (although a recording of Rattle’s 2015 performance with the Australian World Orchestra can be found on ABC Classics.)
Jansons’s performance is a notable achievement. Even taking into consideration the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s long history of Bruckner interpretation, the quality of the playing is exceptional. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the symphony’s instrumental detail presented with such careful attention to colour, phrasing and balance. The close of the Adagio in particular is exquisite, the playing of the first violins over a cushion of horns and Wagner tubas achingly tender and expressive. There’s more to a performance than refined playing, however, and Jansons’s interpretation also impresses with its command of symphonic structure, traversing the work’s complex and varied musical terrain with commitment and authority. The final build-up of tension in the coda of the finale is especially well managed. Jansons’s performance might not have the elemental force of Wand at his finest or Haitink with the Staatskapelle Dresden but it impresses on its own terms, and the recording is superb.
Rattle’s Barbican performance followed concerts in Luxembourg and Paris and is a dedicated and assured interpretation, although not on the same level as that of Jansons, I feel. The video recording shows Rattle conducting from memory and the LSO, an experienced Bruckner ensemble these days, offer playing of unflagging energy and commitment. Despite Rattle’s obvious involvement in the music and his cajoling conducting style, however, the performance misses that last degree of intensity and characterisation that turns a fine performance into an unforgettable one.
Rattle is on firmer ground in Messiaen’s Couleurs de la Cité Céleste, which follows the symphony on the disc (although in fact it preceded it in the original concert). Rattle’s performance conveys the vibrancy and power of Messiaen’s 1963 score superbly well, and the control of rhythm and colour is exemplary. The LSO winds and percussion are on superb form and Pierre Laurent Aimard’s contribution is powerfully incisive. The result stands comparison with Boulez’s pioneering 1966 recording with Yvonne Loriod.
LSO Live’s presentation helpfully includes both Blu ray and DVD versions of the concert. Corentin Leconte’s video direction is unobtrusive and the picture is extremely clear on the Blu ray disc I viewed. The sound of the Bruckner performance is warmer and more resonant than we usually hear in recordings from the Barbican. An error in the indexing of both discs means the track for the symphony’s Adagio starts playing at fig B, approximately three minutes into the movement, rather than the start.