Prom 27: Bruckner at speed

Wagner: Siegfried Idyll

There was I’m sorry to say nothing much idyllic about this reading.  It seldom felt like a heartfelt love poem to his beloved nor much like the sketchbook for operatic ideas.  The orchestra have the right sound for this music now and on that the Principle conductor is to be congratulated. And there will be many who respond to his urgency and dramatic turn - moving from tranquility to exhalation in a trice.  I didn’t find much here to inspire me back to a piece to which I seldom listen.  The hair trigger responsiveness of the BBC Scottish is to be applauded too, if only it was being applied in the right circumstance.

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 (Edition: Nowak 1889-90)

I heard Runnicles give a colourful and glorious Bruckner 7 on the radio earlier this year with this orchestra - but I've heard some strange interpretations from him.  I was worried when I heard the BBCSSO’s opening salvo in the opening movement: it sounded like a loud empty threat.

This movement is Wagnerian in temperament but not duration.  Noted Brucknerains (Karajan (in 1958 recording), Celibadache, Guilini, Klemperer and Ashina) slow it down and the impact was enormous - Celibadache in one instance taking over 20 minutes.  At this concert it became a pre-mediated rush but as a result it seemed to me to lack intent or substance.  As the movement went on it became clear we weren’t going to be here long and there was little time to enjoy the local detail and the fulsomeness of the conductor’s attack was slightly off kilter with the music’s brooding intensity.  I think there are two problems for me with this reading - the balance within the brass sections (trumpets and trombones random out of earshot) and the speed into and out of the Brucknerian aural traps - so many of those great echoing abysses of sound don’t have time to register.  The acoustic may have something to do with this as usual but one would have thought that was all the more reason to go slower.

Scherzo is a bluff affair again played at speed - it has a indelicate quality which I liked - very rustic at points.  The Trio - too often murdered with kindness - really benefitted from this approach and was delicate balanced and the playing both idiomatic and exquisite.  The inner woodwind lines really came out as I’ve seldom heard before.

The slow movement started like a dream, but soon came adrift with some overly emphatic point making.   And that was the story all the way through: too fast, too pointed and too ebullient for a Bruckner Adagio. And although beautifully played that was just not sacred enough until the coda.  The climaxes were self-referential and self reverential: a slight slowing just before each explosive outburst points us to the grandiloquence of the conception. And though the coda started well - cool reflective and devotional, it soon tapered off into a series of phrases with pointed last notes.  This composer never talks this quickly in my experience.

There is a growing trend amongst some conductors to thrive in the realm of the monumental - earning accolades for monumental symphonies and choral works is a high risk strategy but it can sometimes fails.  So all the loud noises, theatrical and grand gestures are in the right place in these symphonies, the prayers are intoned albeit hastily sometimes, the silences are observed, but the notes between the monumental moments are lost.  I’m sorry to say that’s where I am with this Bruckner.  

The Nowak edition makes things harder.  Runnicles said this is the first time Bruckner gets a finale right - he obviously thinks less of the finales to Symphonies 1, 5, 6 and 7 than I do and disagrees with Bernstein’s assessment of the Eighth as a flawed work because it has too many endings.  In judging Nowak’s synthesis of what Bruckner wrote as the right way I suspect he overestimates Bruckner: there’s a very good reason why so many great Bruckner conductors chose the Haas edition.  Compounding this decision though is the  treatment of the finale where I miss so many little signs of its greatness.

The finale gets faster and more boisterous - at crucial parts the trumpets are weak and the wind virtually inaudible. His dramatic pause before the coda is unseemly.  It’s a glorious noise but it all gets wildly muddled in the final bars and left me feeling cold and rather empty.  An unsatisfactory experience for me.  The hall loved it though and the orchestra did play very well so they are to be commended but I will not be rushing back to hear them playing Bruckner under this baton.  It’s all much more sympathetic in Manchester.


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