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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Götterdämmerung, WWV 86D Act 3: Siegfried's Funeral March [9:13]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 7 in E Major, WAB 107 (ed. Haas) [67:35]
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons
rec. live March 2018, Gewandhaus zu Leipzig
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 8494 [76:47]

This release is the third instalment in a series of the complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies from Andris Nelsons as the new Gewandhauskapellmeister. My enthusiastical review of his Fourth will appear shortly and I am looking forward to the continuation of what promises to be a really distinguished collection of live recordings. Each symphony is to be judiciously paired with an orchestral excerpt from Wagner’s operas; the choice here is Siegfried’s Funeral Music which, despite the same beautiful playing that has marked the Leipzig orchestra’s contribution so far, I find slightly underwhelming compared with live versions on my shelves by Leinsdorf (with the SWR Baden-Baden und Freiburg), Celibidache and Thielemann; there is not enough rasp in the brass and proceedings are in general too smooth to generate the sense of overwhelming tragedy and loss the music demands.

However, the Bruckner is the main offering here. The opening is sublimely confident, finding just the right mood of mystery and exaltation; the cellos singing over the violins’ tremolando are sumptuous. Dynamics in the third theme of running octaves are carefully graded and a feeling of lightness pervades the whole movement, despite the grandeur of its burden. The concluding coda is simply glorious, the majestic invocation of a descending angelic host and emphasising Bruckner’s indebtedness to Wagner’s sound world, his tribute to the recently deceased Master.

If Nelsons has a fault it is a tendency to linger a little too long to underline points, and for me the slightly halting delivery of the opening of the Adagio lacks flow. However, the bitter-sweet moderato second subject is so elegantly played as to dispel criticism. The absence of cymbals, triangle and timpani in the climax is usually a feature of the Haas edition used here but happily Nelsons includes them.

The Scherzo is splendidly joyous, animated and flexible, and every instrumental line is brought out cleanly, although I would like a touch more of the demonic-goblin in the dotted rhythms. The Trio is butter-smooth, the strings swelling and sliding seductively, with alternately urbane then perky interventions from the woodwind and brass.

That perkiness spills over into the opening of the finale, which is first alert and high-spirited, then quizzical, then three minutes in the brass roars menacingly like a herd of Cretan bulls. The playing is really sharp and tight; Nelsons maintains tension throughout this potentially fragmentary movement by following Bruckner’s instructions and avoiding the temptation of simply speeding up; thus the conclusion is suitably monumental.

There is no audience noise and applause has been edited out. The silly photograph in the booklet of a dozing Nelsons dreamily draping his arms around the neck of a bust of Bruckner wearing a suitably scandalised expression is best passed over, although some might find it whimsical.

There is no shortage of classic, competitive recordings of this symphony from great Bruckner conductors like Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Karajan, Eichhorn and Sanderling, and there have also been some recent, highly recommendable recordings of the original version by such as Gerd Schaller and Dennis Russell Davies, so this one needs to be special to displace those. It doesn’t necessarily do that, but the excellence of the recorded sound and the superlative quality of the orchestral playing support Nelsons’ masterly interpretation so well that it must be counted in many ways their equal.

Ralph Moore
(This review reproduced here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal.)



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