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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No 8 in C minor (1887/90 mixed version ed. Haas) [85:07]
Tonkünstler Symphony Orchestra /Yutaka Sado
rec. live composite, 25-28 October 2019, Wiener Musikverein TONKÜNSTLER TON2011 SACD [58:27 + 26:40]
I had previously glowingly reviewed the Ninth by the same forces in the same venue, so had similar expectations for this new release when it arrived. I was not disappointed; it seems that Sado is a true and natural Brucknerian who, working in consort with a fine orchestra, secures great weight and depth of tone in order to present this music Old Style – no apologetically tripping the light fantastic with etiolated forces here; instead, we have Bruckner with hair on its chest. The first big climax nearly five minutes in is hammered home by some ferocious timpani, the ensuing trumpet call to arms over urgent pizzicato strings is full of tension, then the strings caress the singing second subject lovingly. Yes, just a few minor blips and imprecisions in the brass indicate that this is not perhaps one of the world’s top orchestras but otherwise their playing is mightily impressive and in the hushed conclusion to the movement, Sado generates just the right degree of bleak beauty required.
The Scherzo is both menacing and animated; kudos once more to the timpanist for his contribution. Tempi are fleet and flowing to contrast with the deliberate, melancholy trudge of the central Trio. Sado’s timings are conventional in the first two movements, but the Adagio and finale are daringly slow compared with standard catalogue recommendations. However, they never drag. That Adagio is ethereal and otherworldly; pauses are marked but momentum is sustained by a long-breathed lyricism and legato – and once more, as in the first movement, climaxes are never undersold. I do wish, however, that I could not hear the conductor singing along somewhat tunelessly as he does, for example, most prominently at six minutes in for a full thirty seconds. In this age of top-quality digital recording, it really should be curbed. The first great climax at eleven and half minutes in is grand but still sufficiently restrained to indicate tacitly that a greater apogee is to come at 21:35 – and that does not disappoint. Sado’s preparation for it is painstaking; he gradually ratchets up tension then pulls back only to re-launch his orchestra on an inexorable path towards apotheosis then serenity.
The finale is riveting; it starts off as a cavalry charge and our friend the timpanist yet again makes his mark before we pause for sombre reflection in the second subject song. Sado takes an immensely dignified, even portentous interpretative approach to this music but it is all of a piece. The central section is grand and steady but when the battle cry sounds again we spring forward at a gallop. The C major coda concludes magnificently and after a decent pause the applause is deservedly enthusiastic.
As with the recording of the Ninth, the live sound is absolutely first rate with no distractions. I concede that some might find this manner of playing too “monumental” but this is my kind of Bruckner and the second time I have been bowled over by a Sado performance. His approach is the sort which makes this long symphony just slip by in one great, arching sweep and whereby the listener is never conscious of any kind of artifice or point-making – just a wholly coherent overview which declines to undersell the courage and majesty of Bruckner’s “Victory Symphony”. This makes me eager to hear another recording from the same source; indeed, although we are now hardly short of complete sets, the quality of this recording makes me hope that it will eventually form part of an entire cycle.
[This review commissioned by, and reproduced by kind permission of, The Bruckner Journal]