BRUCKNER Symphony No 9 (Giulini)
Despite their interest in Bruckner’s output being quite selective, both Kurt Sanderling and Carlo Maria Giulini made a number of very fine recordings of his music. Sanderling’s 1999 live account of the Seventh Symphony, recorded when he was 87, seems to have divided critical opinion over the years but strikes me as being a quite magnificent performance. Although the CD booklet makes no mention of it, Sanderling uses the Nowak edition of the score until the climax of the Adagio, where he briefly reverts to the Haas edition by omitting the cymbal clash, timpani and triangle. This contrasts with his 1977 recording with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Unicorn, 7/79 – nla), in which he included the timpani.
At just over 25 minutes, Sanderling’s interpretation of the Adagio is spacious but never seems unduly slow, the performance conveying both expressiveness and spirituality. The depth of tone of the violins is remarkable and the playing of the solo flute in the coda is as poignant as any performance I’ve ever heard. In the first movement, the music’s contrasting episodes of serenity, rusticity and splendour are superbly realised, and both the Scherzo and finale brim with energy. In the latter movement, Sanderling observes the various ritard markings found in the Nowak edition but does so in a way that sounds entirely natural. The final fff chord just before the coda has terrific impact and from there it’s a straight run to the end, Sanderling eschewing the unmarked slowing that many conductors adopt at this point. There are one or two minor slips of ensemble but for the most part the playing is excellent.
Giulini’s 1996 recording of the Ninth Symphony is not quite in the same league as his uniquely persuasive version with the Vienna Philharmonic, as Richard Osborne observed in his original review (Hänssler Classic, 11/06), but it’s nevertheless a powerful and moving document, and superior to his first version with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The video recording of Giulini rehearsing and conducting the Ninth Symphony with the same orchestra (Arthaus, 6/05) derives from the same sessions and is also very recommendable.
Both symphonies enjoy superb recordings. Some faint background noise is occasionally apparent but it’s only the applause at the end that reminds one these are live performances.