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SACD Review

Anton Bruckner

Symphony #2

Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
Vienna Symphony Orchestra WS004 CD
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Symphonies #8 & 9

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Carl Schuricht
EMI Classics 9999-55984-2 2SACDs Hybrid Stereo
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Here are two very welcome reissues of historical recordings from the 1960's and 1970's of great Bruckner conductors in Vienna – a 2-disc set from EMI Classics of Bruckner 8 and 9 from Carl Schuricht conducting the Vienna Philharmonic and a single disc with Bruckner 2 from Carlo Maria Giulini and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, originally issued by Warner and now reissued as the fourth release from the Vienna Symphony's own label. The Schuricht recordings date from 1963 and 1961 respectively, while the Giulini performance was recorded in December 1974. All three have been remastered, with the Schuricht discs remastered into SACD.

Although only 10 years or so separate the Schuricht recordings from the Giulini recordings, these are two very different eras of Bruckner conducting. Schuricht is from the school of Furtwängler and Knappertsbusch – at least in his freedom with tempi, although he is far less monumental in his approach to Bruckner than either of the others. Giulini is much more measured and in the modern style.

Giulini imbues the 2nd with real depth. Too often it sounds like a pale shadow of the Bruckner to come, but the emotional intensity of Bruckner's late symphonies is already there in Giulini's performance, particularly in the slow movement where he does more than justice to the solemnity of the main theme. At the same time Giulini does not shy away from some of the effects in this symphony that are far cruder than the late Bruckner would have contemplated (e.g. in the Scherzo and Finale, both of which are conducted with great energy and vitality). The end of the Finale is particularly dramatic (as noted in the interesting essay by Robert Freund, horn player with the orchestra and involved in the original recording session).

Carl Schuricht uses tempo variations in both of these recordings to good effect. His approach to Bruckner is relatively undramatic. His Bruckner is not the Bruckner of the church or of the mountain-tops. And so he uses fluctuating tempi to build (and then dissipate) tension and to carve out the structure of the two symphonies. His climaxes are understated but nonetheless effective – primarily because of how he builds and moulds the musical line building up to them. To my mind his approach is more successful (even more successful!) in the 9th than the 8th, but both performances are recommended.

Copyright © 2014, José Luis Bermúdez

Trumpet