30 April 2011

The latest release in Janowski's Bruckner cycle

Bruckner Symphony No. 7
Janowski's ongoing Bruckner cycle has come to the 7th. It was recorded in October 2010 in the Victoria Hall, Geneva. The playing of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande is first-rate as in all their previous Bruckner recordings (in chronological order the 9th, 6th, 5th and 8th) on Pentatone.

It is plush and sonorous (but not dark-hued) soundwise, particularly in the warm multi-channel SACD sound. On the other hand, it is an eloquent and lyrical reading. Together they add up to very comfortable listening. So far so good. What ultimately makes it short of joining my top favourite list of recordings of this symphony is its relatively shallow beauty of sound and lyricism, leaving a sense of emptiness beneath the surface when the inner voices are not discernable. A moment of disappointment also comes forth when the tension sags in the second theme's first occurrence in the lovely Adagio. It is a recording very easy on the ears, but in the end I was left with the impression that this reading merely vocalises, albeit beautifully, but does not speak or sing as other top Brucknerians' renditions did impressively.

23 April 2011

My Favourite Bruckner Recordings

Before the Easter holidays, one of my friends asked me, "Why didn't you have a list of your favourite Bruckner recordings on your blog, as you've already had a list for Beethoven symphonies?" Oh yes, and I just couldn't answer. I've never thought of this question, and in retrospect, it is indeed strange that a downright Bruckner fanatic like me has never kept a list of my favourite Bruckner symphonies recordings, not to speak of telling it to others. Of course there must be some recordings or concerts that occupy a special place in my heart, but the problem is, I've never systematically made up a favourite list. I've come to like many recordings, but I seldom think about my top 5 or top 10 in any symphonies, maybe because I thought I didn't have to. Now the situation has changed. This has something to do with the storage of my CDs. I place my Bruckner CDs in three different cabinets. Most of the collection is in 4 shelves fully packed according to conductors in alphabetical order.  However as Furtwängler is considered sui generis, his CDs have their own shelf in another cabinet. Then there is a shelf in a large book cabinet with glass doors in the sitting room dedicated for special categories: Bruckner recordings with the Wiener Philharmoniker and box-sets and separate CDs by my favourite Brucknerians, e.g. Sinopoli, Wand, Karajan, Celibidache, and lately Blomstedt. It sounds and indeed looks confusing.

With all the terrible disasters happening in recent times, it becomes imperative that I need to place all my favourite Bruckner CDs in one place for the ease of evacuation just in case. And so the list. I'll take advantage of this "long" holiday of 4 days to compile this list, and at the same time backup these CDs. Not an easy task I can assure you.

05 April 2011

Eugen Jochum's "11 Apostles"

In the finale of Bruckner Fifth, Eugen Jochum carried over but modified somewhat Schalk's practice of augmenting the brass section towards the end of the movement with 11 extra brass instruments placed separately in a raised position behind the orchestra, often in the organ loft. He supported the brass with 11 additional instruments from the beginning of the Chorale, using  4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 thrombones and 1 bass tuba. He called these the "11 Apostles" as he did not include the twelfth, Judas. He placed them in the orchestra just behind or beside the original brass players however, as he thought placing them in the organ loft would have an effect too theatrical. The idea of this practice was to make sure that the divine ending would not otherwise become lacklustre or feeble due to the fatigue of the brass players by the beginning of the Chorale (bar 583).


03 April 2011

Titbits about Bruckner Symphony No. 5

Recovered from last week's illness, I went back to work. Savio visited me a few days ago and we talked about Bruckner Symphony No. 5 as he is going to give a pre-concert talk for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of this symphony on 16 April. He was kind and generous to invite me to co-host the talk, but I had to decline his offer because of my heavy engagement in my work in the College. He was thinking of how to make the talk more interesting.

I told him that last year when the HKPO performed Bruckner 8th, the young conductor Perry So delivered the pre-concert talk. He ran through the symphony movement by movement illustrated by musical excerpts of certain themes or section. Savio said it was the last method that he'd like to present his talk. He is a person who doesn't always like routines. He'd rather concentrate on certain interesting or controversial parts of the symphony. He asked if I had any suggestions. Not an easy question to answer.

One way to explore this symphony can be seen from Benjamin Zander's bonus CD accompanying his B5 CD, musing on the resemblance of the structure of this symphony to that of a cathedral, and the significance of it to his father during WWI. Interesting but is it going a little too far?

Another interesting point is to explain the role B5 is playing as sort of an intermediate between Bruckner's early symphonies and his late ones. How about B5 as one Bruckner symphony with not much difference between the Haas and Nowak editions, or one with only one performing "original" version known by now (the 1876 may never be able to be reconstructed in full)?

Still one further suggestion is to try to examine what the symphony will be like if the slow introduction to the first movement is cut. Or talk about Eugen Jochum's euphemistic "apostles" in the finale.

All these trifles have brought me to write something about Furtwangler's wartime recording of B5 and its many CD issues from various sound sources -- quite complicated yet interesting, particularly when the coming Testament issue is from a source never utilised for commercial release before.