CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Dip Your Ears, No. 234 (Gergiev's Early Bruckner Maturing)

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.1
Valery Gergiev, Munich Philharmonic
MPhil 0008

Gergiev on ionarts
Munich Phil on ionarts
A.Bruckner on ionarts
When Valery Gergiev came to Munich as the new music director of the Philharmonic, he mentioned that he intended to conduct a lot of Bruckner. He might even have been explicit about it; if not it was the subtext: namely that he was going to use this opportunity to learn from the Munich Philharmonic and its nearly century-old Bruckner expertise. Good for Gergiev, a conductor with a steep learning curve, ready to adopt just about any idiom to within reasonable proficiency in just a few years. Not so good for Munich audiences, which were going to have to go through the growing pains of this process, and which now had three conductors without a real feel for (or interest in) Bruckner: Mariss Jansons, who for all the usual hype, is decidedly ill at ease with Bruckner. Kirill Petrenko, who hasn’t turned his attention to Bruckner yet – although if he does before he will be replaced by Vladimir Jurowski (also not a Brucknerian) one might reasonably expect magic. And Gergiev. Consider that, after decades of the likes of Jochum, Kubelik, Sawallisch, Celibidache and Thielemann in town.

The good news is that – like his Wagner and Mahler, which started leaving much to be desired and ended getting ever better – Gergiev’s Bruckner is also getting ever better. By the time he started his tenure with the Philharmonic with a Bruckner 7th, it was already well executed Bruckner, neither celebratory but certainly not butchered. Judging from subsequent performances and recordings, his initial tendency for garish colors, superficial structure, and loudness (not just in Bruckner) seems more under control and the ‘Brucknerish’ clerical ammunition isn’t all spent after by the end of the first movement. And now Gergiev is performing and recording a whole cycle of the Bruckner symphonies with the Munich Philharmonic at ‘Bruckner’s’ church in St. Florian which, shockingly, will be the orchestra’s first such complete cycle.

This 2017 recording of the First Symphony’s Linz version is part of that St. Florian cycle and much of the improvement shows: intermediate climaxes don’t tread on the larger structure anymore and the sections of the orchestra enter with greater precision… which isn’t that easy in the tubby atmosphere of the St. Florian Abbey Church. Acoustically the place is, frankly, a terrible place to listen to Bruckner (lest you sit up front), even if the total experience – soaking in the atmosphere and the local beer – is always special. And if the microphones are placed just right, one can catch the performances very decently. The result is slightly diffuse and brawny, with Bruckner’s First sounding more like Weber than Schubert, but there’s something to be said for giving this symphony heft and not making it sound undernourished. The tempi here make slight allowances to the acoustic in the outer movements but Gergiev doesn’t make that an excuse to slow down the Adagio any further – and ends up with a nicely flowing account thereof.

This may not be decidedly great Bruckner (Skrowaczewski, Jochum and Sawallisch are closer to that, in the First), but it’s good Bruckner by a great Bruckner orchestra and a good deal better than the uninvolving and brash Fourth from the same forces released a few years earlier.


Anonymous said...

This is not exactly Munich Philharmonic's first Bruckner cycle. There was one just after the war under Hans Rosbaud. Also, Rudolf Kempe was preparing one when he died unexpectedly - too early! In fact, he managed to record symphonies no. 4 and 5, both great performances - these and the Korngold symphony being IMO his best recordings in Munich.

Jurowski is, indeed, not a known Brucknerian, but he does conduct the music so at least he knows some of it. He conducted the 5th and 2nd symphonies in London - the last one very well received by critics - and he'll be doing the 3rd symphony in Berlin this season.

jfl said...

I might have been sloppy in suggesting that this was the Orchestra's first Bruckner cycle *in performance*. The MPhil is not a Bruckner orchestra for nothing; under Hausegger and Kabasta they also played lots of Bruckner. And of course later, under Celi and Wand as well.

Or are you suggesting that these Rosebaud performances were recorded? That I would *love* to hear more about, as I'd not been aware of that at all.

I must get my hands on the Kempe Bruckner recordings some day; they do sound intriguing!

Cheers & thanks for the comments -


Anonymous said...

I don't think the Rosbaud performances were recorded. I saw the mention of the Bruckner cycle in Gabriele Meyer's book about the orchestra; in fact there was a poster advertising the cycle.

Fortunately we have a near complete Bruckner cycle from Rosbaud, the one with the Südwestfunk-Orchester which you already talked about.

jfl said...

Thanks for the clarification. I was confused, because I was thinking about a "recorded" Bruckner cycle. But yes, the MPhil famously put on a cycle with all the new editions -- I have Mme. Meyer's book as well... so that I should have known about. Cheers!