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Discussion: Bruckner: Symphony No. 8 - RCO/Haitink

Posts: 62
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Post by tream December 9, 2005 (1 of 62)
I started a thread on the Music Lane at audio asylum about Haitink, where I wondered why the record industry continues to support the issuance of new recordings conducted by him of material he has done several times before, while others are not getting the opportunity to make their first recordings. Given his dull Brahms 4 on LSO Live, I really wondered who was buying these recordings, and posed the question what Haitink recordings could you not live without?

There was quite an outpour of support for Haitink, mostly citing his solid musicianship, his refusal to call attention to himself in service of the music, and so on. The recordings cited as those responders could not live without, though, were mostly from the 60's and 70's (remember those great Phillips sets - in the US we first started receiving the European pressings in the late 60's, I think it was-earlier Phillips recordings had been pressed in the US, not too well. Anyway, the quality of the pressings and packaging made ownership of these a pleasure). Not too many cited his later recordings, and not a person cited this one. (I specifically inquired, and the one response I received indicated that it was stodgier than his older recordings of the 8th).

4 of 4 have recommended this recording on this site - it would be great to hear from you on why. (Even better would be a detalied review from someone who knows the Bruckner discography reasonably well).

I can't say that I am a huge Brucknerite (can't take the 9th, by the way-I find it brutal), but the 8th is my favorite Bruckner symphony, by a long shot, and I believe it to be one of the cornerstones of the symphonic literature. I have several recordings of the 8th, and my own preferred recording is the one Karajan recorded with the VPO near the end of his life. Karajan seemed to find new life with the VPO (hear his New Year's Day concert, for example). It would be wonderful if we had a beautifully played and recorded 8th on SACD, one that is generally available.

Post by Peter December 9, 2005 (2 of 62)
I have this recording which I find beautifully played and recorded; I'm pleased to have it as I was unable to go to the concert from which this recording was taken.

Have you heard Furtwaengler's recording of the 9th? If you haven't it's very well worth listening to.

Post by seth December 9, 2005 (3 of 62)
tream said:

Karajan seemed to find new life with the VPO...

...because in the late '80s the BPO musicians and German government were tying to boot him out of the BPO despite his lifetime appointment.

Post by tream December 9, 2005 (4 of 62)
seth said:

...because in the late '80s the BPO musicians and German government were tying to boot him out of the BPO despite his lifetime appointment.

True, and it was a miserable experience for him. But-I also think he recaptured the spirit of music making after some fairly arid years with the BPO.

Post by ramesh December 9, 2005 (5 of 62)
In Isaiah Berlin's lovely little book on Tolstoi, he quotes the archaic Greek poet Archilochus, about the 'fox who knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.' Berlin extrapolated this to people, contrasting those who are fascinated by a multiplicity of ideas, versus those who relate everything to one encompassing world-view, be this secular, sexual or religious. The trouble about most musicologists is that many appear to be neither hedgehogs nor foxes, but ostriches with their heads buried in manuscript paper. The hedgehog approach to aesthetics is definitely worthy. Consider the ludicrous controversy in Mahler 6 about whether the andante is the second or third movement, with contrasting quotes from the holy grail of Mahlerian correspondence and performance practice. As Seth has pointed out, the scherzo is a parody of the first movement; if one accepts this, then on pure musical grounds, the scherzo ought to be second, and close to the tempo of the first.

Of course, it is a term of praise that a conductor's 'interpretation' sounds 'unified' and 'consistent', but what is unified and what isn't? One praises a musician who nurtures the 'colour' of a work, then usually criticises the same person if the 'tempi seem all over the place'. With a massive symphonic work, there appear two opposing thrusts which the greatest musicians seem to both promote and hold in a dynamic balance one lauds as a 'great interpretation'; to elicit the diversity in the score, and the alchemy which suggests the work may be long, but was as long as was needed, and not a minute longer. The fox and the hedgehog.

Haitink appears in his later performances to be tending more towards the grave and dour, which fits his recent Bruckner 8, misfires in others, and is amazing in a couple. His grinding yet defiant Vaughan-Williams 3 has the greatest moderato pesante third movement I've heard, a true elegy for the trench warfare of WW1.
One could look on Haitink's Bruckner 8 SACD and Karajan's BPO versions as 'hedgehogs', the Wand BPO SACD as intermediate between the hedgehog and the fox, and the Karajan VPO as a fox.
What I mean by the Wand, is that he and the orchestra give the powerful suggestion of the entire work as one holy and powerful utterance, yet attempt to balance the many threads which make it so. There is a Sony DVD of the Karajan VPO performance released earlier in the year, which makes the foxlike character of this performance far more apparent than the CDs. Karajan looks at the players often, rather than conducting with eyes closed. It appears to have been shot in the Musikvereinsaal, rather than in the studio. The deep feeling on Karajan's face near the conclusion of the first movement is harrowing. The feeling of other-worldliness at the beginning and conclusion of the adagio is very special, both here and in the Wand SACD, but the visuals in the DVD, allied to the best sound I've encountered yet on this Sony series, give this DVD the aesthetic ( not necessarily musical ) edge over all other Bruckner 8s. The reason this performance is 'foxy' rather than 'sexy', is Karajan can promote the religious aspirations of Bruckner's conception, without smothering every vestige of the earthiness, or the ländler aspects, as in the scherzo.

Post by tream December 9, 2005 (6 of 62)
Peter said:

I have this recording which I find beautifully played and recorded; I'm pleased to have it as I was unable to go to the concert from which this recording was taken.

Have you heard Furtwaengler's recording of the 9th? If you haven't it's very well worth listening to.

BTW, does it have applause at the end -I'm finding that to be an annoyance with some of the live recordings (the Berglund Sibelius, and the Ondine/Philadelphia. Thank heaven this is not being done with the SFS Mahler).

I have 3 recordings of the 9th - Jochum (Dresden/EMI), Guilini (VPO, if I recall, also EMI) and the Harnoncourt SACD. I've also heard it live. My reaction is always the same - I find it a brutal work. I can't imagine that the Furtwangler would change my opinion.

Post by Peter December 9, 2005 (7 of 62)
tream said:

BTW, does it have applause at the end -I'm finding that to be an annoyance with some of the live recordings (the Berglund Sibelius, and the Ondine/Philadelphia. Thank heaven this is not being done with the SFS Mahler).

It's a concert performance without audience, well worth hearing, even if it does confirm your view of the piece.

On balance I agree with you about applause; the joy of listening at home includes savouring the silence at the end of a performance for as long as you like. Then you can applaud yourself if you like!

Post by Scott December 9, 2005 (8 of 62)
ramesh said:

What I mean by the Wand, is that he and the orchestra give the powerful suggestion of the entire work as one holy and powerful utterance, yet attempt to balance the many threads which make it so.

This is exactly how I feel about this performance, though I don't know that Wand himself would have agreed with this characterization. The key reason why Wands Bruckner succeeds so well is the fact that he does not try to recreate the score to fit a pre-conceived notion of how the piece ought to sound - he allows the symphony to unfold naturally as it was written. He understands the work completely and refrains from imposing too much "point of view" on the music; or perhaps his and the composer's point of view have become the same.

Post by seth December 10, 2005 (9 of 62)
Scott said:

This is exactly how I feel about this performance, though I don't know that Wand himself would have agreed with this characterization. The key reason why Wands Bruckner succeeds so well is the fact that he does not try to recreate the score to fit a pre-conceived notion of how the piece ought to sound - he allows the symphony to unfold naturally as it was written. He understands the work completely and refrains from imposing too much "point of view" on the music; or perhaps his and the composer's point of view have become the same.

This is why Boulez is a hero for me with his recording of the 8th. His conducting does not engage in rhetoric surrounding Bruckner's spirituality; he focuses on getting the listener from point A to B. I find the majority of Bruckner performances so heavily micromanaged due to preconceived notions about the composer and his biography that the music doesn't seem to go anywhere; I lose interest half way through due to sheer boredom.

Post by Edvin December 10, 2005 (10 of 62)
I think Haitink´s first recording still sounds very fresh and vital. The second is my favorite of all, both with Concertgebouw.
Speaking of Concertgebouw and applause, the new Stravinsky/Rachmaninov from RCO-Live is terrible in that aspect. The applause bursts upon you even before the music has ended in the Rachmaninov, no tam-tam diminuendo there. The performance is brilliant though.

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