13 July 2014

Claudio Abbado and Anton Bruckner -- A long and fruitful journey

It is well known to Brucknerites that Claudio Abbado has recorded several Bruckner symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic on DG. However it takes some time to realise that all these VPO symphonies have exact counterparts in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra (albeit only video recordings of B5 and B7 are now available) , now that Abbado's last concert has been issued. Is it fate?

His last concerts last year, programming Schubert Unfinished and Bruckner 9, left indelible memories to those fortunate enough to have attended them. Now this Bruckner 9, recorded by Accentus and issued on CD by Deutsche Grammophon, is commercially available. What an experience it is! Comparing his Lucerne Festival Orchestra Bruckner recordings with his previous Vienna Philharmonic ones is a good exercise in learning how Abbado has evolved in his understanding and interpretation of Bruckner.

This Bruckner 9 will surely join my favourites list of this symphony.






03 June 2014

Gerd Schaller's Bruckner 5 CD is around the corner

Gerd Schaller's Bruckner 1-4 and 7-9 recordings have been issued by Profil to good acclaim.
His Bruckner 5 recording (PH14020) will be issued later this year.
As judged by his previous efforts, this B5 is something to be looked forward to.


20 May 2014

An enlivening path to retread (15) -- Herbert Kegel and his intense Bruckner 8

This Bruckner 8 (Arioso CD ARI110) is special, in that it is characterised by visceral rawness, in the brass and even more so in the tympani which seems trying to break open the sky.

Intensity, tension, Eastern European timbre, intoxicating passion are all key features to this recording.

It is Bruckner on another dimension.

Hail to Kegel the Brucknerian.

The recording year (1970) as shown on the cover is doubtful; some have considered this studio recording to be contemporaneous to his live recording (on ODE) in 1975.

25 April 2014

Stunning realism verging on surrealism

This SACD is a gem

Stunning realism verging on surrealism -- SACD reincarnation by Analogue Productions of Fritz Reiner's 1958 recording of Pictures. 

The Bydlo evokes goosebumps even in a hot damp night.

My immediate thought is one of paranoia: go and buy a spare copy lest the present one is robbed.

For SACD-reissue's throne, Esoteric please give way to Analogue Productions.

14 April 2014

Inflight Bruckner symphonies

Whenever I fly to other places, I've always checked whether Bruckner's music is included in the inflight entertainment programmes. 

I find the Emirates Airline inflight classical music programmes in flights involving the A380 planes (on routes between Hong Kong and Dubai and London) invariably include Bruckner's symphonies No. 4 to No. 9. With some patient searching, the names of the conductors and orchestras can be found as well. The Korean Airline flights from Hong Kong to Seoul, again on A380s, also have Nos. 4, 5, 7-9, but the performers are not named.

The playlist on Emirates is:

No. 4: Rattle / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (EMI)
No. 5: Bolton / Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra (OEHMS)
No. 6: Nagano / Deutsches Symphonie-orchester Berlin (Harmonia Mundi)
No. 7: Kreisberg / Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Pentatone)
No. 8: Tennstedt / London Philharmonic Orchestra (EMI)
No. 9: Blomstedt / Gewandhausorchester Leipzig (Decca)

In my experience, it is a huge improvement compared to inflight programmes in general many years ago when no Bruckner was included.

06 April 2014

From St Pancras to Canterbury, Kent through Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4

Some further pictures using this lens, all at 10mm.

St Pancras International Station

27 March 2014

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm F4 test shots

The Fujifilm/Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 ultra-wide zoom has its range in 35mm equivalent as 15-36mm. A very well-made zoom lens.

Fujifilm XF 10-24mm on the camera with the 56mm F1.2 standing next to it.

Fujifilm X-E1 with the XF 10-24mm alongside the Nikon D5100 with the AF-S 12-24mm G.

Weight of the Nikon combination.

Weight of the Fuji X combination.

Some test shots of the new XF 10-24mm F4 showing how small the distortion is. Very impressive indeed.

Within an MTR station. 10mm, f4, 1/30, ISO 1600.

10mm, f4, 1/50, ISO 1600.

10mm, f4, 1/60, ISO 1600.

10mm, f4, 1/34, ISO 1600.

25 March 2014

Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra and Bruckner 9

Viva Bruckner

The 6th of March 2014 proved to be a very enjoyable evening. The Bruckner 9 concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fischer was hailed by many of my friends as great and unforgettable. With due respect, I
’d take my feeling as a qualified concurrence.

The most interesting thing about this concert is the orchestral layout. Fischer places the entire French horn/Wagner tuba section directly in front of him so leaving the strings sections flanking it on both sides. The positive side of this placement is a very clear horn choir in many of the horn passages and particularly in the tuttis, but the downside is a lack of the very important misterioso in the opening movement. 

The conductor’s and the players’ tireless dedicated effort in this symphony is almost palpable, but there are times when I was left with the impression that Fischer tends to treat it as an orchestral showpiece in certain passages. No, he doesn’t spice it with heavy pathos, nor does he temper it with funny ritenuto or accelerando; in fact it is quite a “conventional” reading. However, despite the very beautiful and exact playing in the Scherzo and Trio, the way Fischer wears his jovial heart on his sleeve in this movement is a little incongruous in this context. When the symphony ends, what filled my heart with gratitude is Anton Bruckner the composer per se and not Ivan Fischer the conductor, but if you look at it from another angle, the conductor has done an excellent and admirable job in conducting Bruckner’s electricity to the audience and not standing in the way as a resistor or nonconductor for that matter.

Bravo Professor Bruckner!

16 March 2014

Two consecutive nights of sheer magic from two venerable Brucknerians -- Skrowaczewski and Haitink

Lady Luck has graced me with two Bruckner concerts on consecutive nights by a nonagenarian and an octogenarian respectively.

14 March 2014
Bruckner 3 (1889 version)
London Philharmonic Orchestra / Skrowaczewski
Royal Festival Hall, London

Sheer magic from a nonagenarian.

Skrowaczewski has made me love Bruckner 3 even more. When people are criticising the 1889 version of Bruckner 3, mainly due to the extensive cuts in the Finale, Skrowaczewski has magically made the Finale work, what with balancing the different parts of the Finale with fine adjustment of tempo (e.g. by adopting a slower tempo then usual in B) and what with gelling different parts, especially in the development, with tension and momentum. These only form part of his magic.

The LPO plays magnificently. The lower strings just sing in the opening movement and the Adagio.

A truly unforgettable experience. Mr Ken Ward and his friends all heap praise on the performance.

This concert is apparently recorded and will most probably come out on an LPO CD.

The London Eye under the moon.

15 March 2014
Bruckner 4
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Haitink
Philharmonie, Berlin

This concert marks the 50th anniversary of Haitink as a guest conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. When he first conducted the BPO in March 1964, he was only 35 years old. Now he is 85.

Haitink has given us a beautiful reading of Bruckner 4. The Berliners give him all and their joy in playing for him is almost palpable. The solo horn at the beginning of the first movement has such delicate nuances that right from the start you know it will be a special occasion. The Andante is lyrical and the Scherzo has a certain vigour and power that is rather special from Haitink, unlike his previous readings, e.g. his live recording of his concert with the LSO a couple of years ago. The Finale is crowned with a marvellous coda that shows how controlled the power of the brass of the BPO -- it is simply gorgeous and grand but never unpleasantly overbearing to the ears.

Then there is the attraction of the Berlin audience all through the years. All of them arrive BEFORE the concert starts and settle down quietly at least 10 minutes before the orchestra enters. The concert starts punctually. They are quiet apart from the inevitable coughs. 

They wait for many seconds for the music to die out before they applaud. Apparently nobody is trying to be the winner in a who's the first to scream Bravo competition.

Two nights in mid-March 2014 which I'm privileged to be present and which will remain in my memory forever.

09 March 2014

Fujifilm XF 56mm F1.2 R Test Shots

The new Fujifilm XR 56mm f/1.2 R lens is beautifully made and attractively priced for such a wide-aperture lens. 

The Fujifilm 56mm f/1.2 lens mounted on the X-E1. The old Leica 50mm Summilux on the M mount adapter stands next to it.

I was lucky to be able to get this lens today. Before I went to the London Symphony Orchestra concert tonight, I took a few pictures around the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. I just wanted to know how this lens performs, especially when it is maximally opened, i.e. at f/1.2.

All the shots below were taken at f/1.2 except otherwise stated and resized to 1600 pixels.

1/250s, ISO 200

1/45s, ISO1600

1/60s, ISO 1250

1/60s, ISO 1000

1/60s, ISO 1600

1/60s, ISO 1600

Misty Hong Kong; 1/60, ISO 1000

Chinese tourist posing for a shot; f/1.4, 1/40s, ISO 1600

The famous old railway station Clock Tower; f/1.4, 1/42s, ISO 1600

25 February 2014

More Bruckner from Günter Wand via Profil

Sometimes it seems that one can't have too much of a good thing. Profil is going to issue a second box-set of Günter Wand's NDR SO recordings. It contains 4 Bruckner symphonies: the Third recorded on 23/12/1985, the Seventh on 18/4 -21/4/1999, the Eighth on 30/4-3/5/2000 and the Ninth on 5/4-7/4/1998.

PH 12044

The 3rd has appeared on some pirate labels, and it is the only other Wand's NDR B3 recording besides the one from RCA/BMG (r. 1992).

The other 3 have never been issued.


21 January 2014

Claudio Abbado in Memoriam -- his Bruckner recordings

The great conductor Claudio Abbado passed away on 20 January 2014. May he rest in peace.

Although Abbado's Bruckner symphony recordings are limited to Nos. 1, 4, 5, 7 and 9, they spanned a period of 43 years, from his first in 1969 to his last in 2012.

All of Claudio Abbado's Bruckner recordings on LP, CD, DVD and Blu-ray. The Melodiya LP is the only version issued. The Decca LP is the first (narrow-band) edition. The Decca CD of Bruckner 1 is the first CD reissue released in Japan; lately it was also reissued in the DG Eloquence series and in another Japanese reissue. The B7 DVD is the first EuroArts edition; it was reissued with another cover art in 2012. The Vienna version of B1 (lower left corner) was part of the Claudio Abbado The Symphony Edition issued by DG; it was later issued singly on Accentus.

He was among the group of conductors to record for Decca in a complete cycle (from No. 1 to No. 9) with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1960's-1970's. He conducted Symphony No. 1 in C minor, a recording which even to this day sounds wonderfully refreshing. An interesting Melodiya LP contains a 1972 recording of the same symphony with the same orchestra. Then we had had to wait for another 18 years before he made a new batch of Bruckner recordings (from 1990-1996), again with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra but this time on Deutsche Grammophon. These recordings were not uniformly successful. I was impressed by his excellent First and a very good Ninth, but the other three were slightly overshadowed by many new or reissued CDs at that time, arguably the golden age of Bruckner recordings.

Then came another hiatus until we got his live recording of Bruckner 7 with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in 2005 on DVD, a lyrical and memorable performance. Thereafter, each and every Bruckner issues are live recordings, be it audio or video, with 'his' Lucerne Festival Orchestra. The Fourth (2006) is one of my favourite recordings of this symphony. It was followed by a truly gorgeous Fifth (2011) on DVD and Blu-ray, another of my favourite. His last Bruckner offering is the Vienna version of the First (2012) on CD, first issued in the large box-set Claudio Abbado The Symphony Edition from DG, and then individually by the copyright holder Accentus. 

It is seemingly predestined that his last Bruckner recording is Symphony No. 1 in C minor when his first was the same symphony more than 40 years ago. There are also some interesting facts about this symphony and him. He is the first and up to this day the only conductor to record this symphony officially with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra -- 'The Bruckner Orchestra'. He is also the only conductor to have the largest number of recordings of this symphony, 4 including both the Linz and the Vienna versions.

Although his Bruckner recordings are limited to only 5 symphonies, his later ones with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra have gifted us some exuberant and chamber-music-like renditions which are truly memorable. He will be remembered fondly.

20 January 2014

Anton Bruckner's residences in Vienna

Bruckner lived in Vienna from 1868 till his death in 1896. Within this period he had lived in 4 different places in Vienna, and they are listed below in chronological order:

(1) Währinger Straße 41 (from 1868-1877).
(2) Heinrichshof opposite the Opera House (less than 1 year in 1877). The building was destroyed in World War II.
(3) Heßgasse 7/Schottenring 5 (from 1877-1895). The building is now a hotel which has a suite called the Bruckner Suite, presumably, but not known whether it actually is, where Bruckner's room was.
(4) Upper Belvedere, Kustodenstöckl (1896) where he died on 11 October 1896.

Apart from those of his last residence in the Upper Belvedere, pictures of his earlier residences in Währinger Straße and Heßgasse 7 are not widely known. I've visited these places and taken some pictures.

(1) Währinger Straße 41

It takes about 20 minutes to walk there from the Schottenring. There is a commemorative plaque on the building.

The commemorative plaque is between the second and the third windows on the ground floor.

(3) Heßgasse 7

This building is now a hotel. 

The corridor leading to the Bruckner Suite.

The sitting room in the Bruckner Suite.

The picture hanging on the wall behind the desk.

A picture of Bruckner in a display cabinet in the sitting room.

(4) Upper Belvedere, Kustodenstöckl 

Bruckner's last residence in the background.

These are places where I could pay tribute to the Master.

For more pictures of Bruckner-related sites in Austria, please visit this page.