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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, revised version ed. Nowak (1890)
Royal Danish Orchestra/Hartmut Haenchen
rec. 2017, Royal Danish Opera House, Copenhagen
GENUIN GEN18622 [69:20]

This is a decidedly speedy rendition of Bruckner’s greatest symphony. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if the interpretation carries sufficient gravitas, and many a hesitant, would-be Brucknerian will venture the opinion that traditional approaches render the work too ponderous and prone to longueurs. I do not share that view and like the weighty, majestic accounts by such as Karajan, Giulini and Wand, who take around eighty minutes and more, and even those from Celibidache and Ballot at well over a hundred minutes. However, I can also appreciate swifter recordings and waxed lyrical over Saraste’s first Bruckner recording in which he took seventy-five minutes. Nonetheless, I think Haenchen is definitely pushing the limits of tolerance with this, the fastest account on record at under seventy minutes. The Scherzo, for example, sounds distinctly rushed to my ears; even the Trio, which should represent a moment of repose, sounds breathless. George Szell’s Eighth with the Cleveland is urgent and dynamic as opposed to monumental yet succeeds in maintaining those qualities without undue haste, coming in at eighty-two minutes.

Unsurprisingly, Haenchen has opted to perform the tauter, more tightly structured 1890 revision. Perhaps less lingering suits more modern taste and I understand that Haenchen wishes to embrace the Zeitgeist by avoiding any unseemly indulgence but I cannot help feeling that too much which should hang in the air and generate a sense of timeless repose is harried along. Both the recorded sound and the Klang of the Danish orchestra suit Haenchen’s conception: clean and bright with little of the sumptuousness we associate with Berlin or Vienna. The Adagio suffers most from the perfunctory phrasing and the great climax, complete with cymbal clash, goes for little, just as the coda sounds negligible; there is little sense of release or afterglow. The finale emerges as being as close to a non-event as it is possible to reduce this wonderful score.
 
Ultimately, I cannot get excited about a recording which evinces so little cognisance of the mystery and transcendence inherent in the music of my favourite symphony.

Ralph Moore
 
[This review commissioned, and reproduced here, by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal]

Previous review: Terry Barfoot




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