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Herbig Finally Back for More Bruckner with BSO

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Bruckner, Symphonies 3-9, Munich Philharmonic / Te Deum, S. Celibidache
(Warner, re-released in 2011)
A few years ago, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra hosted veteran German conductor Günther Herbig for one of the Bruckner symphonies, often paired with a Mozart concerto. This series of appearances continued, but without the Bruckner, at least after Bruckner 7 in 2007 and Bruckner 9 in 2006. Until this week, that is, when the BSO played Bruckner's eighth symphony with Herbig at the podium, heard on Saturday night in the Music Center at Strathmore. This comes in close proximity to the performance of the same symphony in Christoph Eschenbach's ongoing cycle with the National Symphony Orchestra, but you will not hear any complaints from us.

The orchestra played from what was reportedly a combination of the Haas and Nowak editions, but the duration of the performance, at a taut 78 minutes, did not seem to indicate that many of the passages excised by Bruckner were restored in this version. Our resident Brucknerian keeps track of the recorded Bruckner symphony cycles, and in preparing for this performance I happened to listen to Celibidache's recording with the Munich Phil, which clocks in at over 100 minutes by comparison. The BSO fielded almost all of the instruments called for in the score, including the four Wagner tubas (doubling on Horn 5-8), but only two of the three harps, which still made a beautiful sound in the middle two movements.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, A transcendent Bruckner 8th from Gunther Herbig, BSO (Baltimore Sun, January 17)

Simon Chin, Back to basics with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Washington Post, January 19)
Herbig paced and shaped the piece well, if without the infinity of time in Celibidache's recording, with the first and second movements pushed ahead considerably in tempo. This made the Scherzo feel just a bit Mendelssohnian in character, although the slower Trio was sinuous, and placed the emphasis of the piece largely on the slow movement. The Adagio seethed with subdued energy, bathed in golden string sound, from which Herbig built up a series of massive crescendi, leading logically to the forceful, almost violent opening of the Finale. The last movement, indeed the whole symphony, is about the evasion of the home key, and sadly just at the moment where the orchestra relents, a perfectly timed cell phone ring disturbed the near-silence. Brucknerians in the house could not have been blamed for taking the owner of the device out back for a good pummeling.

The opening Mozart piano concerto (C major, K. 467) was not necessary, but it is one of the most perfectly crafted examples of the genre. Herbig chose just the right tempo for each movement, against which the soloist, pianist Alon Goldstein, struggled because of a tendency to rush the beat, especially in the outer movements. That conflict, which frayed the edges of the beautifully woven fabric achieved by Herbig and the orchestra, lessened the final results, so that I would have preferred no Mozart and a little more infinity in the Bruckner.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very good review. Bruckner is obviously a labor of love for Gunter Herbig. I attendid the Strathmore concert and was very moved by the performance. Not only did Herbig'so interpretation make perfect sense, he had the good fortune of working with musicians who clearly like and respect him. This was real old school stuff! I really hope Herbig comes back soon!