> Anton Bruckner - Symphony No. 9 [MB]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1887-96)
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
Recorded live at the Barbican, London February 2002
Budget price
LSO LIVE LSO0023
[65í33]


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When I reviewed one of the performances from which this CD emanates I suggested that Sir Colin Davis had little to say about Brucknerís last symphony. Hearing the disc has little changed that view.

There are, however, some notable differences between the disc and the concert performance and these add marginally to this discís attraction, especially at its bargain price. For example, Tony Faulkner and his team of engineers have successfully tamed the heavy brass balance one experienced in the Barbican Hall; this performance now sounds much less like Eugen Jochumís technically and aurally corrupt Dresden recording than I originally believed. The intense lyricism of the first movement is also much more heartfelt than I remember from the concert performance and woodwind are almost ideally placed in a symphony notable for almost cloaking them under a brooding darkness of brass chorales.

So where does Davis go wrong? Certainly not with his orchestra, who play this music incredibly beautifully. The string sound is sumptuous (and I canít wait to hear how the engineers have reproduced the adagio of the Sixth Symphony [due for release in Spring 2003] which was literally spellbinding in its beauty). The problem with this performance is Davisís handling of the opening Maestoso Ė which at the printed running time of 28í33 (28í38 according to my computer) is simply too slow. Very few conductors take the first movement at longer than 28 minutes, but of those that do (Giulini and Celibidache, especially) there is a sense of organic development from the opening tremolando strings to the fearsome brass coda at the movementís close which is compelling. Celibidache defies the logic of this movementís sudden, and uncomfortable, changes of direction to direct a performance of awesome continuity. With Davis one feels that Brucknerís orchestration is taken somewhat literally with its continuity compromised.

The menace of the second movementís grinding dissonances suits Davisís tempo ideally. Although slower than both Abbado and Sinopoli, who direct near benchmark performances of this symphony, the malevolence of the LSOís basses and brass is never questionable in a performance of chilling certainty. And where many performances treat this music as a precursor to the sinister scherzos of Shostakovich and Bartók Davis is almost restrained in taking the music that far forward; his Trio, marginally more lyrical than we are used to, relates the scherzo directly to the volatile dissonances of the final movement and is probably the best thing in this recording.

The Adagio, the most pain-ridden music Bruckner wrote, succeeds or fails on how well a conductor resolves the transcendental climax near the close of the work. It is music of indescribable power and Davis is almost worthy of its scale. There is no lack of nobility (although as an Elgarian of some stature it is a less nurtured European nobility) and the LSO produce a glorious tone but as live performances go it is rather on the prosaic side. Take either Rattle, in concert performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, or Boulez with the Vienna Philharmonic (scheduled for a release on DG, but currently accessible through www.andante.com) and this music holds altogether more terrifying powers. What Davisís performance lacks is an elementalism that both Rattle and Boulez view as part of an overall trajectory of this symphonyís mysticism.

Stephen Johnsonís programme notes are worthy and the LSOís timings are marginally different from what I calculate them to be. What is inexcusable, even for a budget label, is a lack of proofreading: Brucknerís dates are given as 1906-75, which are, of course, Shostakovichís.

Marc Bridle


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