BRUCKNER Symphony No 9 (Muti)
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a long tradition of performing Bruckner’s music, the Fourth Symphony having featured in concert as early as 1897 under the orchestra’s founder, Theodore Thomas, with performances across the decades under the likes of Stock, Kubelík and Reiner, as well as complete recorded cycles with Barenboim and Solti. By contrast, Riccardo Muti, the orchestra’s current music director, does not have an extensive track record with Bruckner’s music, his recordings of the Fourth and Sixth Symphonies for Warner both dating back to the 1980s. More recently, however, Muti has included Bruckner in his programming in Chicago, and this recording of the Ninth Symphony derives from concerts in June 2016.
While it’s not unknown for conductors to develop an affinity with Bruckner’s music with age (one thinks of Bruno Walter in particular), I don’t feel Muti’s new recording offers any special insight in this music given the extent of the available competition. This is not to say that there aren’t many good things here. Muti navigates the symphony with care and patience, achieving a real sense of focus in the Adagio, and the playing is trenchant without being over-forceful. The woodwinds in particular make a strong impression. However, one does not find the supernal transparency offered by Dohnányi and the Philharmonia, the expressive charge of Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic or the profundity of Giulini’s interpretation with the Vienna Philharmonic, to name just three alternative options. The close-focus recording is vivid but slightly lacking in atmosphere and the concluding applause has been edited out.