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.

16 January 2014

The golden sunset -- Haitink's Bruckner 9 with the LSO.

Bernard Haitink first recorded Bruckner 9 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra back in 1965 and then again in 1981. A video recording of a performance of this pairing was made in March 2009. Now comes Haitink's only official recording of this symphony with an orchestra other than the Concertgebouw, recorded live on 17 and 21 March 2013. 

It brings much expectation from me as I very much like his recordings made in the last few years which exhibit such wisdom that appears to elude him in his earlier attempts, especially the Ninth.

All Bruckner recordings so far from the LSO Live label

Haitink's Bruckner has a satisfying sense of cohesion. So in a sense there is little that happens in this Bruckner’s Ninth that isn't thoroughly predictable from the start, particularly from such a venerable Brucknerian, but the recording is illuminated with such inner glow, warmth and sagacity that, I suppose, every lover of Bruckner’s music will treasure the experience through and through. Such is the magic that the understanding of life and death becomes internalized in the Brucknerian idiom, thanks to Haitink the octogenarian via the London Symphony Orchestra whose playing is indescribably beautiful. 

It is a performance that makes other more "savory" interpretations appear either too caramelised or too hysterical. The respect to death that Haitink shows is palpable throughout, more so in the Adagio which is very moving in its own right. On the other hand, he is against any extraneous attempt to complete Bruckner's unfinished Finale: "You have to respect life, but you also have to respect death". 

He is right, because this performance makes any attempts to complete the Finale unfortunately subliminally superfluous.

This disc becomes one of my favourite Bruckner 9 recordings.