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"B7" - Solti, Haitink, Böhm & Co.

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Solti / WPh - Decca Eloquence

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Haitink / CSO - CSO Resound, live

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Böhm / BRSO - audite, live

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Karajan / WPh - DG Gold, live

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Wand / BPh - RCA, live
available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Jochum / Dresden StaKap - EMI

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Rattle / Birmingham SO - EMI

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Herreweghe / O.d.Champs-Élysées

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Harnoncourt / WPh - Teldec, live

available at AmazonBruckner, Symphony No.7, Celibidache / MPhil - EMI, live
Decca’s Australian Eloquence subsidiary is to be thanked for their tireless re-issuing of forgotten, out of print recordings from the vaults of Universal Music: DG, Philips, Decca/London. In doing so, they occasionally unearth treasures, sometimes classics, emotional favorites, or simply recordings that have been unavailable long enough to generate some interest and demand.

Just as few recordings receive universal praise, so, too, few interpretations have no following at all. Somebody will always like one particular album above all. And surely someone will also like this one: Solti’s Bruckner 7th with the Vienna Philharmonic from 1965. In listening to it, it struck me again how it can be just as difficult, if not more so, to determine with any precision what makes a performance ­unspecial , as it is to pinpoint the reasons for excellence with another. Direct comparison usually exacerbates the felt differences without necessarily helping to get a firmer grip on the specific reasons for it.

What remains easily discernible here, though, is that somehow swells don’t quite resonate, that climaxes are not intense and don’t resolve. Energies, nervous rather than compelling, seem misapplied into the wrong directions by margins scarcely noticeable but strongly palpable. The Adagio (with cymbal clash) is reasonably well articulated, while not as drawn out as later in his Chicago recording and performances (where it, too, is hailed the most successful of the movements). Some extraneous noises at the end of that second movement can be heard when listening closely, but are not loud enough to be disturbing. “Disturbing” would be much too harsh a word for the very occasional pitch ambiguity of the woodwinds and brass, but it contributes to playing that is every bit of the standard expected from a very good orchestra in a live performance (which this, however, isn’t), but not much more than that.

Those who don’t appreciate Bruckner in the first place might reason that the music plods along for most of the symphony’s duration because that lies in the nature of Bruckner’s music, not Solti’s conducting. It’d be witty enough – but it needn’t be so at all, and recent recordings of Bruckner’s Seventh make painfully obvious how a linearity and an arch can lead from the first to the last note, and the the hour between. (Solti takes about 66 minutes here, which is insignificantly above average, unless you include Celibidache in the count, who distorts the statistics.)

Most notably and recently there are two live recordings from veteran Bruckner conductors Bernhard Haitink (May 2007, on the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s own CSO Resound label) and Karl Böhm (April 5th, 1977 on audite). Both bring a gentility to the work that exudes moving tenderness: elaborate, reticent and glowing at once in Haitink’s recording, slightly tighter in the outer movements with Böhm. Both Haitink’s CSO and Böhm’s Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra outperform the VPO (WPh), if in different ways. The CSO appeals with playing that’s anywhere from luminously to blazing and ever precise, while the BRSO reveals the music’s structure beyond the notes, playing more lively and with more understanding than the anemic 1965 WPh. (Any subsequent WPh recording of this, including Böhm’s 1976 on DG , is much improved.)

The sound of Decca’s John Culshaw (producer) and Gordon Perry (engineer) from the Sofiensaal is good for its time – but that is also to say that it sounds slightly aged now. The divided violin sections, meanwhile are caught in nice (almost too prominent) contrast... lovely, generally, but potentially an issue when listening with headphones.

In a highly competitive field – roughly seventy different, single-CD versions are offered on ArkivMusic, alone – this will only appeal to the Solti enthusiasts. I like Günter Wand; the Berlin recording more so than WDR (box set) or NDR (DVD) – but apart from the above mentioned Haitink and Böhm, favorites are Karajan III (WPh, 1989), Jochum (Dresden), and – I’m almost embarrassed to admit – Simon Rattle / Birmingham (EMI). Good alternatives to ‘standard’ interpretations are Herreweghe (O.d.Champs-Élysées), and Harnoncourt (WPh) on the ‘non-cymbolic’, fleeting side – and of course Celibidache with the Munich Philharmonic for not-thought-to-be-possible breadth and glory.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Thanks for your post. I've found Herreweghe's to be the most engaging: as I recall, he wrote part of the liner notes, and it's clear his understanding of the work informs his performance, not in the least with the tempo. I end up returning to this performance the most.

It does take patience with Bruckner, but not so much that it "plods"; Solti seems to have that deadening effect on some of his Mahler as well.

I'll have to check out Haitink's and Böhm's recordings; I would probably use a similar word to your "tenderness" to describe Herreweghe's recording.

And don't be embarrased by liking Rattle's Bruckner; whatever else people have to say about him, his Bruckner is quite good.

Again, thanks for this!