Composer: Anton Bruckner
Orchestra: Wiener Philharmoniker
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Number of Discs: 2
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Size: 345 MB
Symphony No. 8 in C minor (“Apocalyptic”; “The German Michel”), WAB 108 (various versions)
Composed by Anton Bruckner
Performed by Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Conducted by Herbert von Karajan
01. 1. Allegro moderato
02. 2. Scherzo: Allegro moderato
01. 3. Adagio: Feierlich langsam; doch nicht schleppend
02. 4. Finale: Feierlich, nicht schnell
Not all of Karajan’s almost obsessive re-makes are by any means an improvement on what came before but this, his penultimate Bruckner recording from November 1988 (the Seventh was recorded in April 1989) and one of his last studio recordings before his death in July of the following year, is undoubtedly one of his greatest.
Indeed, some would call this the greatest recording of the greatest symphony by the greatest conductor and I’m not going to bother to debate that highly contentious claim; I would merely say that it represents a distillation of everything both the composer and Karajan were trying to achieve, and is one of the most profoundly moving and spiritually uplifting recordings in the entire canon.
First, a few canards to dispose of. The sound is superb; not at all typical of the thin glassy, screechy early digital recordings which too often appeared in the 80’s but is rather rich, warm and full with a remarkably good combination of balance, transparency and warmth. The virtuosity of different sections of the VPO emerges clearly, especially the Wagner tubas and the trumpets and horns combined at the end of the first movement. The dynamic range is ideal; pianissimi whisper and fortissimo tutti thunder without distortion.