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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No.8 in c minor (1887, ed. Haas) [72:21]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Eduard van Beinum
rec. 1956. ADD/mono
BEULAH 6PD17 [72:21] 

If you were looking for just one recording of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, I wouldn’t recommend van Beinum, in 19561 mono, as the first choice. Herbert von Karajan’s many fans will make a bee-line for his 82-minute 1988 2-CD Vienna Philharmonic recording, which is not as exorbitant as it looks, with most dealers charging as if for a single CD (DG E4276112). Others will choose Carlo Maria Giulini, again with the Vienna Phil, but that is expensive, at around 20 on two Presto special CDs (DG 4151242, or download). Gunter Wand’s Bruckner has a very wide appeal – myself included – but his RCA recording of the Eighth with the Berlin Phil is encased in a 6-CD set, with Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 9 (E4276112 – good value on disc, but not as a download). For better value, his Cologne recordings of all nine symphonies can be obtained for around 27 (RCA 88697776582).

With those and other stereo recordings to consider, why am I even bothering to review this Beulah reissue? Firstly, because Bruckner thought the Eighth was his masterpiece, yet it was not highly regarded when I started to be interested in recordings of his music. Then it was only the Fourth that tended to receive the limelight – my first recording of that was a mid-price Vox reissue of the Klemperer VSO recording on a single LP in atrocious sound. It was not until much later that I caught up with the Eighth, from Eugen Jochum’s DG recording. (Jochum’s stereo recordings of Nos. 1-9, with the BPO and Bavarian RSO, are now in the 9-CD box set only, E4698102, or download).

Indeed, when this Beinum recording appeared, on three LP sides, with Schubert’s Third Symphony on the fourth, it was the only one available for a short time (ABL3086/7). It cost an arm and a leg, too, at almost 4, at least 80 in today’s values. Buying an LP involved a serious outlay in those days; now you can obtain the Beulah reissue, sounding better than ever, for 7.99.

Secondly, because Barry Coward has waved his usual magic wand over what was never the best of recordings, even by the standards of 1956; Philips were lagging well behind Decca at the time. The sound is really very well cleaned up, though I haven’t done it the indignity of direct comparison with those more recent recordings. Nor have I been able to make direct comparison with the Eloquence transfers from the master tapes; to obtain that involves the purchase of four CDs, with Nos. 5, 7 and 9 (4807068). As always, I recommend obtaining this and other Beulah recordings from Qobuz where, for the same 7.99 as from elsewhere, the downloads are available in the same quality as my lossless press previews.

I gave up on LPs a very long time ago. The better my equipment, culminating in a Shure M97 cartridge in a direct-drive Garrard turntable and arm, the worse the snap, crackle and pop seemed to become. That was true even on discs which I’d parastated, dust-bugged and stored carefully, so I’m grateful to Beulah for turning out so many very fine transfers, with no loss of the music but none of the surface noise. LP sound without the hassle.

Mostly, however, I’m very pleased to welcome this reissue because van Beinum had a real knack for conducting Bruckner. Where Jochum thought in paragraphs in an attempt to make the music appeal to more listeners, Beinum thought in chapters and still made the music appeal. The chapters are long, but we never lose sight of the end. And though the effect is to sound leisurely, with the music given plenty of time to expand and breathe, it never drags. That’s also due to the quality of the orchestral playing. If you have access to the Qobuz streaming service, try the opening of the scherzo for a good idea of the quality of the direction and the playing; there’s a real sense of enjoyment almost allowed to get out of hand before a more thoughtful mood prevails.

Overall, despite the appearance of breadth, Beinum comes in ten minutes shorter than most other recordings, though he employs the Haas edition of the original, not Bruckner’s slightly abridged revision. (Klemperer, whose set of Nos. 4-9 I otherwise have a lot of time for, saw fit to make even further cuts.) Mariss Jansons’ recent recording of the 1890 score with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra comes in at a typical 80 minutes (BRKlassik 900165 – review review review Summer 2018/1 ).

I wrote in Autumn 2018/1 that the Jansons wouldn’t be my first choice, falling as I found it to do between those recordings of Bruckner that just go on and those that go on to heavenly length. Not having heard this van Beinum recording before, I’ve now found a version of the Eighth to add to those few that go on to some purpose. It’s straightforward, with no gimmicks, but it’s not boringly straightforward. With Beulah giving this idiomatic account to us in very decent sound and at an attractive price, I see no reason to hold back.

1 I’ve given 1956 as the date of the recording, as indicated on the Beulah cover and on the Eloqeunce CD booklet, but the LP was released early in that year, so I suspect that it was actually recorded in 1955.

Brian Wilson



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