Bruckner Symphony No 9

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Bruckner Symphony No 9

  • Symphony No. 9

When Giulini first recorded Bruckner's Ninth Symphony for EMI (nla) with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra I thought the reading grand and often impassioned but rather diffuse; less effective, certainly, than the 1975 DG recording, now on CD, in which Karajan sets the symphony before us with all the art of a painter who has truly mastered the perspective and anatomy of his subject.
The new Giulini is gaunter, grander, and even slower. And yet it is more of a piece, more tellingly played by the Vienna Philharmonic who surpass the Chicago orchestra in almost every department: weightier brass, more pungent woodwinds, and strings that don't attempt to mimic sweetness. Giulini has not so much changed the reading as transformed it. Despite the slowness—three minutes added to the first movement and again to the Adagio, making them the slowest on record at getting on for 30 minutes a piece—there is very much the sense of his now being the master of his own brief.
As a concept it is, of course, quite different from the dramatically tense, musically dynamic readings of conductors like Horenstein (Vox—nla) and the recent Dohnanyi on Decca; and in the first movement's main Gesangsperiode it can seem dangerously broad with the Vienna strings rather tensely following the contours of Giulini's protracted beat. Here the wary score-watcher may notice some unevenness in ensemble, though, that said, this is a reading which should be patiently heard rather than proof-read. There was never any problem with Giulini's account of the Scherzo, by turns truculent and open-handed, and now it is even more effective with a certain added drive and dynamism. After that, the orchestra are at their finest in the great concluding Adagio, not only the Viennese horns, complete masters of the adagio sostenuto style, but the entire ensemble in the difficult broad transitions and in the literally terrific C sharp minor climax.
The performance was derived from concerts in the Grosser Saal of the Vienna Musikverein in June 1988. I thought there was a curious 'dead' silence before fig. E in the Adagio (at 9'37'') before the Tempo wie Anfange but in general the recording is magnificent. The hall and DG's engineers reproduce the orchestra and the score with great clarity and force matched with an ambient spaciousness that gives to the Viennese brass a looming, slightly menacing splendour apt to this grim, often anguished valediction. Bohm's 1974 Bruckner Fourth with the Vienna Philharmonic sounded not dissimilar (Decca (CD) 411 518-2, 5/85) though that was made in the Vienna Sofiensaal.
In the final analysis, it must be said that Giulini's is an idiosyncratic reading—ten minutes longer than the Dohnanyi, nearly seven minutes longer than the classic Karajan version—but it has about it a kind of immutable breadth and boldness of utterance that is not to be gainsaid.'

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