Bruckner Symphony No 9 (cpted Carragan)

Author: 
Richard Osborne

Bruckner Symphony No 9 (cpted Carragan)

  • Symphony No. 9
  • Symphony No. 9

This two-record, 99 minute set is principally interesting for the chance it gives us to hear on record for the first time the often fully orchestrated sketches Bruckner left (edited into a four-stave score by Alfred Orel in 1932) for the finale of his unfinished Ninth Symphony. As fragments they are thrilling indeed and they are vividly played by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra under the talented Israeli-born, American-trained young musician, Yoav Talmi.
The fragments take up a little under 16 minutes of the second record, prefaced (should they not have followed?) by a somewhat contentious 'completion' of the movement, and the symphony, by the American physicist and amateur musicologist, William Carragan. Dr. Johnson said of a woman's preaching that, like a dog's walking on its hinder legs, it is not well done but you are surprised to find it done at all. In this instance, the completion is plausibly done; but should it have been attempted? (I am surprised that it has been so widely performed; it has even reached St Florian where Bruckner is buried.) The fact of the matter is, the sketches for the finale put in place great thematic blocks without giving us any settled and incontrovertible idea about how they might finally have been assembled. Even setting aside the possibility of further thoughts and afterthoughts on Bruckner's part, there are gaps in the compositional process which deny us access to the transitional ideas without which Bruckner's often highly idiosyncratic structures cannot be assembled. Most damaging of all, Bruckner left no sketches for the coda, nor any real ideas about how what we do have might have been consummated, or even possibly refuted, in the final pages of the symphony. Carragan's coda is a big optimistic piece built out of a tissue of themes and allusions, including the finale's Choralthema and Tedeum (sic).
Listening to Gunter Wand's grand and terrific reading of the completed three movements at a BBC SO concert last November, I was left wondering whether Bruckner would ever have completed the work. He had pulled off big finales in the Fifth and Eighth Symphonies, but would he have been able to do it again given the spiritual, psychological and musical forces, both internal and external, that were pressing in upon his creative thinking in the 1890s? We shall never know; but the balance of judgement must stand against us easily accepting the kind of solution Professor Carragan so plausibly proposes.
Talmi conducts the movements we do have in completed form with a certain breadth of utterance and a compelling power in parts of the Adagio. His reading would not persuade me to abandon my Karajan LPs or CD, or recordings by conductors like Haitink, Walter and Wand. That said, the recording is the best the symphony has yet received; the Oslo Philharmonic Hall provides a depth and clarity of sound that is well-nigh ideal for Bruckner.
Those wishing to explore the sketches further but who do not have access to Orel's text will find a useful introduction by Hans Redlich to the Eulenburg miniature score of the symphony. Chandos's notes confine themselves to promoting Carragan's case. A fuller, more disinterested examination of the issues would, I think, have given the enterprise a more scholarly and authoritative feel.'

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