BRUCKNER Symphony No 9
This beautifully prepared account of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony was the Philharmonia’s contribution to a complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies performed by a variety of orchestras at the 2014 Salzburg Festival. Christoph von Dohnányi, the orchestra’s Principal Conductor from 1997 to 2008, secures playing of exceptional transparency and expressiveness from his old band. Dynamics and balance are perfectly judged throughout, allowing details of the score to be heard that are often masked in other performances. An example of Dohnányi’s care for detail is the way that the successive entry of horns, trombones and trumpets after fig A in the Scherzo (0'40") cumulatively enrich the orchestral texture rather than one group of instruments apparently superseding the other, as so often heard in less well-managed recordings.
Dohnányi’s interpretative approach is clear-sighted and largely non-interventionist. Tempi in all three movements are unexceptional and firmly controlled, the only changes from a steady pulse being those marked in the score. Compared to his 1988 recording with the Cleveland Orchestra (Decca, 6/89 – nla), Dohnányi’s new version is slightly broader in the first two movements and offers a somewhat deeper musical experience. For all the eloquence of the playing, however, I found myself occasionally wishing for a degree more temperament and intensity, especially in the finale. The great dissonant climax, for example, gives the impression of being precisely controlled rather than terrifying, while a degree more warmth in the coda would have been welcome.
Among the many recommendable recordings of the Ninth Symphony, those by Barenboim (Teldec/Warner Classics), Giulini (DG) and Wand with the Munich Philharmonic (Profil) – not to mention Abbado’s 2015 Gramophone Recording of the Year – stand out for their interpretative insight and depth of expression. Although not in this class, Dohnányi’s new recording is distinguished by the clarity with which it presents Bruckner’s score as well as the excellence of its sound. There is no audience noise and applause has been excised.