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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 9 in D Minor WAB 109 (1894 Original Version ed. Nowak [1951])
New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra/Toshiyuki Kamioka
rec. live, 28 October 2018, Suntory Hall, Tokyo
EXTON SACD OVCL-00683 [60:43]

The stream of live Bruckner symphony recordings from Japan, where the Master of St Florian’s status seems ever on the rise, continues unabated; I recently reviewed two excellent performances of the Eighth and the Ninth emanating from Osaka and Tokyo respectively, and here is yet another live performance of the Ninth from Tokyo. I increasingly expect to hear a fourth movement played, given the plethora of options now available, but for the moment Japanese conductors seem content to stick with the traditional three. The orchestra here was founded by Seiji Ozawa in 1972 and Toshiyuki Kamioka has been its principal conductor since 2016 and it is clearly highly adept.

The first movement is light on its feet but not lacking weight. The playing is sharp, precise and, homogeneous, virtually flawless, with especially secure and sonorous brass, but the phrasing itself of the first subject is a little soft-edged; the Gesangsperiode, however, is lyrical, flowing and beautifully shaped, with the pauses daringly extended. The coda is grim and ghostly, building via subtly graded dynamics to an impressive peroration. The Scherzo, like the opening of the symphony, is unusually fleet without compromising the necessary violence and the more bucolic Trio shares in that sense of urgency, being played very fast and trippingly.

It is in the third movement where I have reservations. I have heard sweeter strings in that Adagio; there is an edge and they are recorded so close as to allow individual instruments to obtrude; as for the conducting, the movement gradually loses flow and shape, rather breaking down into individual gestures, with exaggerated pauses. That more cautious, deliberate approach can work if an impression of timelessness rather than stasis emerges but here all momentum is lost and I derive little sense of transcendence from it. There is still much lovely, silken playing here but too much which sags rather than soars.

My feeling is that this would have been a satisfying evening in the concert hall, but as a recording for repeated listening does not withstand the competition provided by established classic recordings of the three-movement Nowak version by such as Karajan, Giulini and, more recently, Jansons.

The sound is first class but picks up on a habit which seems to me to be of increasing frequency among conductor: that of groaning along tunelessly along with the music during passages of particular intensity.

The back cover erroneously tells us that the edition used here is the “1894 Original Version Edited by Robert Haas and Alfred Orel” whereas this must be the Nowak/Orel edition.

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

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