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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 6 )
Anton Bruckner Cycle • Bruckner II & Te Deum

Vienna Philharmonic • Philippe Jordan

Unexpected Glory

Pictures above and below (details) courtesy Salzburg Festival, © Silvia Lelli. Click on above for entire picture.

The less well known a work, the less often heard, and the less easily digested (either due to lack of immediate quality or excess of complexity), the more you will want to hear it as best possibly performed. Both Bruckner’s Second Symphony and his Te Deum fall into this greater category—the former the quality/rarity one, the latter into the digestibility one.

The Vienna Philharmonic (7 ♀) and Philippe Jordan (and a fine cast of singers) should be just the ticket, then, to make these works shine. While the WPh alone is no guarantor of quality, Jordan just about is. The new music director of the Vienna Symphony leaves a trail of satisfied audiences, pleased musicians, and impressed critics—whether in Bayreuth, Vienna, Salzburg or elsewhere. Ditto here, at the Grosses Festspielhaus on Saturday, August 3rd, the second of two successive matinées with that program.

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A.Bruckner, Symphony No.2
H.Stein / WPh
Decca Eloquence
The above claim about Bruckner’s Second is easily backed up with reference to performances and recordings… many great Brucknerians have eschewed the first two (four) Symphonies and start counting at No. 3. Understandably, if one is honest, but at the same time unjustly. Certainly listening to this rendition (and presuming some love for Bruckner), there were so many gorgeous, downright sunny spots, so much excellence, so much momentum, his qualities as a musician became obvious. Perhaps most pleasing of all: There was a certain lightheartedness that emerged that one doesn’t think of, in Bruckner II. That was true for all movements:

For the unusually melodious opening movement, quicksilver-fleet, with a nice contrast between high and low strings, in which clmaxes sounded like a bunch of trains whirring into town, circling each other. For the especially serene Andante, played like the orchestra really meant it, with nostalgic wonderfulness and a flute and first violin duo to marvel at. For the vigorous Scherzo (“Little Big Bruckner” style: blowing its cheeks yet still playful). And for the somehow-kept-together stop-and-go finale. The English program notes of Nicholas Attfield spoke of a “truly fraught symphony”. True, the finale needs to be reined in to remain coherent enough for us to enjoy the fresh splendor of Bruckner’s—and not get sidetracked by the odd anti-cantilena. But here it was lyrical amid outbursts, stormy and impetuous. And a fitting finale to a symphony that sounded simply great.

Without intermission, the forces went into Bruckner’s Te Deum. The above claim about the Te Deum (needing all the help it can get), widely acknowledged a great work, may be more contentious or simply more subjective. Anyone understanding how the Brahms Requiem can come across as tedious might sympathize how the Te Deum, too, can strike as disjointed and not quite going anywhere.

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A.Bruckner, Symphony No.2
C.M.Giulini / VSO
Wiener Symphoniker
These subjective objections can be overcome, for sure… as in 2010 at the Salzburg Festival, when Daniel Barenboim conducted the same orchestra in it, for the opening concert. (Review here.) And under Philippe Jordan, the work came together, too. No portentous pauses, plenty momentum (despite the choral outbreaks) and a solid hint of Verdi Requiem. The singers were very good, too—at least two of them… fortunately the two that matter: Soprano Olga Peretyatko (last heard in Salzburg’s Lucio Silla, last year), has a voice that rings like bell in bronze tones, with strength and ease throughout. The other was tenor Pavol Breslik, one of the (for better or worse) most distinctive voices today: A boyish, beautiful, eager tone… always with a hint of trying very hard and being very glad about actually succeeding. But certainly secure and beautiful, especially when he takes it back a little. Mezzo and bass (Sophie Rennert and Tobias Kehrer) were in a different, lesser league: one didn’t hear much of Rennert, even in the few bits she did have to sing, and Kehrer displayed an unsophisticated voice bigger than it was accurate. The chorus was, at best, in thunderous good shape… and at its worst just thunderous. The main impression, however, for all the Te Deum’s quality, was that the piece—especially after the terrific Symphony, struck as utterly superfluous.

See also: A Survey of Bruckner Cycles