BRUCKNER Symphony No 9
Most of the differences between this Bruckner Ninth Symphony, which was recorded in concert just five months before Claudio Abbado’s death in January, and the rather less flexible version he made in 1996 with the Vienna Philharmonic (also live, and also for DG) are relatively subtle. I note near the very outset of the work a wind chord that on the original broadcast wasn’t quite unanimous is now fairly tight, so I am assuming a limited amount of ‘patching’, though there are no audible edits.
The contrasting qualities of the two orchestras are brought to the fore around 12'13" into the first movement (11'28" on the VPO disc) – the interplay between winds and strings, which is more expressively drawn on the Lucerne disc. Also, there’s added presence among the pulsing basses as the coda to the first movement builds. The blinding light suggested near the start of the Adagio, where brass choirs exchange declamatory fanfares (1'56"), is also clearer on the new disc. Then again, put on the start of either Scherzo and you could as well be listening to the same recording, such was Abbado’s consistency.
I’d say that overall the new version is the more affectionately played, the earlier one bolder, with a more impressive yield of tonal power. Not so much, though, as Bernard Haitink with the LSO at the Barbican, a far broader reading than either of Abbado’s, immensely impressive on every page, almost Celibidache-like in fact, though without the light and shade of my current digital favourite, Herbert Blomstedt with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a Bruckner orchestra through and through with just the right sound properties for the music, mellow yet potentially dynamic. Rattle, the BPO and the speculative ‘completed’ finale is also mandatory, certainly for those who care about how the Ninth might have ended had Bruckner lived to complete it. But Abbado in Lucerne radiates clarity, wisdom and vision, qualities that over the years one had come to expect of him.