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CD Review

Anton Bruckner

Symphony #7 "Lyric"

Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CSO Resound CSOR901704
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Also available on SACD CSOR901706:
Amazon - UK - Germany - Canada - France - Japan - ArkivMusic - JPC

What a difference a few decades makes! Although Haitink recorded this work at least three times, this version reflects a lifetime of experience in this music. If that's a cliché, so be it. The Chicago Symphony sounds utterly magnificent, and even in regular stereo, everything is captured in simply gorgeous sound. Of course the brass steal the show, but the commitment of the strings and winds is no less satisfying.

Haitink has added just under seven minutes to his first and generally inferior first version with the Concertgebouw (a remake with that orchestra is supposed to be much improved), but it doesn't feel slower. In fact, phrasings are markedly more elastic and flowing. Improved sound quality allows the music to swell and move more purposefully. So does Haitink's mature conception. He's a conductor whose career has been defined by a paradoxical mix of keen insight and irredeemable dullness, even in the composers he specializes in, and sometimes within the same symphonic cycle. Thank God that he's in top form here. The additional time he takes is used very wisely; everything feels less sectionalized and more cogent. First-desk playing is exceptional, which you could also say of the Concertgebouw. The difference lies in the intensity and increased focus that the Chicago players bring.

Highlights for me are many, but the Adagio is unmatched for sheer sonic opulence. The low strings of the Chicago Symphony are a marvel. Haitink shapes the music with a kind of inevitability that makes each phrase sound "right", and his players follow his every whim. Climaxes are absolutely breathtaking, as are the hairpin shifts in dynamics that seem as organic as the music itself. Nothing feels the least bit routine. In the Scherzo, Haitink's added just barely a minute in timing, but the movement feels faster than his previous effort thanks to an utterly relentless drive. That was certainly missing from the earlier version. Ditto for the Finale, which feels all at once swifter and more cohesive. If you don't happen to own a Haitink Bruckner recording, grab this one. You'll have hours of joy, while also supporting one of America's greatest orchestras. Everyone wins, but especially you!

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman