BRUCKNER Symphony No 9 (Schaller)
Recent advances in understanding of Bruckner’s work on the unfinished finale of his Ninth Symphony, including the recognition that the score was much closer to completion than previously thought, have spurred a remarkable series of new performing editions over the past decade. These include Sébastien Letocart’s version of 2008, revised editions by William Carragan in 2010 and Samale/Mazzuca/Phillips/Cohrs (SMPC) in 2012, and now a version by the conductor Gerd Schaller, who previously recorded the Carragan completion in 2010 as part of his complete Bruckner cycle.
Schaller’s contribution is no mere tweak of one of the existing versions from a performance perspective but a new attempt to reconstruct the finale based on a study of the available drafts and sketches. In addition to filling out the missing sections of the score and creating a coda, Schaller also provides a more detailed orchestral texture than usual. A notable example is the warm secondary theme of the Gesangperiode (second subject group) at 3'16", which is here given to strings, brass and woodwinds as opposed to the string-dominated scoring of the published manuscript fragments and the other performing versions. The result sounds rather Wagnerian at times, the usual reminiscence of the ‘magic sleep’ motif in the recapitulation (15'23") being joined by additional hints of The Ring, including a quotation of the Wanderer’s leitmotif from Siegfried at 8'30".
The most significant challenge for anyone completing the finale is creating a coda from the available sketches and secondary sources about Bruckner’s intentions. In this respect, the 2012 SMPC version (recorded by Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic) is an extraordinary achievement, offering a stirring conclusion to the symphony while managing to sound thoroughly Brucknerian. Schaller’s conception, drawing on themes from earlier works including the finale of the Fourth Symphony and the cantata Helgoland, doesn’t strike me as being on the same level but it succeeds in bringing a sense of resolution to the close of the movement.
Schaller’s interpretation of the symphony, stately and non-interventionist, is similar in conception to his earlier recording featuring the Carragan finale, although the Adagio is slightly swifter this time around. I would have preferred slightly more intensity in the great climaxes of the first and third movements, although it could be argued that the four-movement version of the symphony is best served by a degree of restraint earlier on, and there’s no lack of conviction in the performance of the finale. In the absence of a critical report on the sources and methodology used to create the new finale (the CD booklet provides only a high-level overview), it’s difficult to judge the veracity of Schaller’s approach; but it’s a serious contribution that deserves to be heard by all interested Brucknerians.