BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7, in E major (Haas Edition)
Word comes from Naxos that the late George Tintner recorded all of Bruckner's Symphonies before committing suicide in London recently at the age of 82. Suffering from terminal cancer, he chose defenestration, and who dares to blame him? To listings in the current Schwann/Opus, the Seventh has been added with extraordinary distinction.
What was left us by the Austrian-born maestro, who spent many of his senior years in Australia and New Zealand (surely to their advantage), has not pleased all Brucknerians. He chose, for example, the original, 1887 version of Symphony No. 8, with its loud ending to the first movement, and a good deal else the composer refined in his 1890 revision---admittedly under pressure from a pack of Job's Comforters who called themselves friends and disciples. On the other hand, the 1890 version has cuts that weaken the music's overall structure later on. And, truth to tell, the willing young Dubliners he recorded it with were green. Even so, their companion version of "Die Nullte" (which postdated the official First Symphony despite Bruckner's label) is the best on discs, vintage irrespective, while No. 5 from Glasgow ranks ahead of Dohnányi and the Cleveland Orchestra on London, which used to lead the latterday pack.
The new No. 7 is an achievement of similar eloquence. It may not be to the taste of those who want Bruckner delivered to the Pearly Gates in a Mercedes stretch-limothe kind that Berlin, Vienna, Dresden and Amsterdam audiences are accustomed to. The Scottish National hasn't the sheer numbers or sonority-in-depth to compete in the leather-upholstered, teak-paneled, livried chauffeur league. Yet I've lived long enough to savor that extra measure of enthusiasm a worthy second-tier (which is not to say second-rate) orchestra can bring music as lap-robed and Prozac-ed as Bruckner's in the 20th century.
Tintner's Glasgow recording of May 6-7, 1997, builds arches in each movement that minimize Bruckner's sequential mannerisms (phrases repeated four times without change), and atop them unfurls the work's long-spanning melodies. In this he is assisted by Robert Haas' edition, rather than Leopold Nowak's later one, which spares us Artur Nikisch's additon of a cymbal crash at the slow-movement climaxthe moment when Bruckner learned of Wagner's death. Tintner's organization, pacing, and eloquent musicianship don't need the punctuation of a cymbal crash, and Bruckner is clearly the winner. Tim Handley's double-duty as producer and engineer has resulted in recorded sound that is powerful, brilliant (although never too much for the subject matter), and finely balanced. There's almost enough bass, toowhich is frequently deficient on Naxos CDsand perhaps even a plenitude, with subwoofers (which I've resisted adding to my listening rig for years). Concert music was never meant to---and doesn't, heard live---sound like a boom-box. Not even Bruckner's and Wagner's.
Tinter's "take" on Bruckner differs enough from admirable Stanislaw Skrowaczewski's (on Arte Nova) to make both of them permanent shelf-partners where I live and listen. Furthermore, together they cost less than a single stretch-limo version at full-price from the "cultural capitals" of Mittereuropa und der Neue Welt.
R.D. (Sept. 1999)