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Claudio Abbado Live - Volume 1
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sinfonia Concertante in B major, Op. 84, Hob. 1/105 (1792) [21:55]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1865/66, 1877 Linz version with revisions – ed. Haas) [47:13]
Samuel Magad (violin); Frank Miller (cello); Ray Still (oboe); Willard Elliot (bassoon)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Haydn)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (Bruckner)
rec. live, 11 June 1972, Vienna (Bruckner); 17 February 1980, Chicago (Haydn)
DOREMI DHR-8070 [69:08]

The sound for both of these performances is a little off-putting for the modern listener spoiled by digital perfection; it is harsh and papery with a constant, underlying background rustle. The Bruckner was presumably remastered by Doremi from the original Melodiya LP; I don’t know about the source of the Haydn but its sound quality is similar.

The Sinfonia Concertante was a great success at its premiere in London, though I doubt whether anyone today would count it among Haydn’s masterworks. It is a typically cheerful, pleasant piece, expertly played by the instrumental soloists but quite conventional and not especially inventive. Abbado gives the two outer movements plenty of bounce and spring and the Andante is properly serene and lyrical – if not very memorable. The orchestra remains rather too recessed in the sound picture.

Abbado had already, in 1969, made a studio recording of this, the so-called “Linz version” of Bruckner’s First Symphony, with the same orchestra for Decca. His tempi here are marginally more relaxed but there isn’t much in it; to my ears, it suffers from the same sense of haste that marred that studio version and many of the comments I made regarding that recording – part of the Decca Eloquence “The Nine Symphonies” - apply here (review) I remarked upon a certain detachment and lack of gravitas in Abbado’s studio version; everything is pushed forward and bowled along without much regard to gravitas or nuance. It is a young man’s approach and that does not necessarily always pay dividends in Bruckner, as the symphony was by no means the composer’s first foray into the genre and he was already over forty when he wrote it. Nonetheless, the build-up to the climax to the first movement is exciting in its own right, matched by a similarly propulsive coda to the finale. The slow movement has more “soul” here than in his studio recording and the correct balance between the lower and higher strings is achieved, allowing us to hear their winding, intertwining semiquaver lines clearly. The outer sections of the Scherzo are fast – perhaps too fast - and lack menace; the finale is likewise very driven but that works better there and a headlong rush is one way of imposing and maintaining a sense of coherence but courts a certain glib shallowness. It is perhaps significant that the audience reaction is hardly ecstatic.

In truth, given the mediocre nature of the sound and the lack of real distinction in what is a merely competent interpretation of the symphony, I struggle to see the point in this issue. There are plenty of better options for either the virtually identical Haas or Nowak editions of this version of the Bruckner symphony – Barenboim or Karajan, both with the BPO, spring to mind - and the Haydn is essentially a makeweight.

Ralph Moore

(This review reproduced here by kind permission of The Bruckner Journal who commissioned it)

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