Composer: Anton Bruckner
Orchestra: Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Conductor: Rafael Kubelik
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (image+cue)
Size: 305 MB
01. I. Allegro moderato
02. II. Scherzo: Allegro moderato
03. III. Adagio: Feierlich langsam, doch nicht schleppend
04. IV. Finale: Feierlich, nicht schnell
Kubelik, BRSO: Bruckner Sym 8: Awesome concert treasure from the Bavarian radio vaults …
Let’s get it right out on the table: I am a mentally-deranged fan of this composer, Bruckner. I can never have too many Bruckner discs, shoulder to shoulder on the fav shelves. It started, more or less, with Otto Klemperer – with a helping hand from Bruno Walter – back in the days of vinyl. Getting my hands on the EMI series with Celibidache in Munich was a dizzy, glorious moment. Then along came others, with Jarvi in Frankfurt in super audio surround sound being among the keepers.
Along the way, I got Kubelik doing both the third and fourth symphonies. I always preferred Ks romantic manners, to, say, Eugen Jochum? I always wished K had been commissioned to do a full Bruckner symphony set. So, what a nice surprise, indeed, to find that more was locked away in the archived vaults of German radio
Just at a glance, you realize that Kubelik is leading a single disc reading of the eighth symphony. That alone suggests that he is going to really keep the expansive music moving, as he typically shapes a soulful integrated reading, flushed with energy, warmth, and beautiful tonal values. And so it is.
The tempos seem very mainstream, no mauling, no taffy-pulling.
One of the best aspects of Kubelik doing Bruckner is how he grasps the music in long, coherent paragraphs. The band is very, very good – even if it never ends up sounding like Berlin, Vienna, Boston, or Philadelphia. The recording dates from 1977, and by that time, Kubelik had forged a golden musical bond with the players, no doubt. The impression is nearly telepathic, and to that extent, recalls the sort of hypnotic Bruckner performance traditions that can be controversial to cooler heads.
The radio sound is exemplary, especially if you are listening on a pair of high end headphones. Abundant details come across, with enough hall resonance to let the glow and grandeur of those long paragraphs catch fire, and burn into velvety black with all the glory of the most memorable sunsets on very wide night horizons.
The Scherzo second movement has motion, and it also flows onwards with a whole lot of Schubertian lift and Schubertian warmth. Ensemble hangs together precisely, a sort of self-effacing Swiss-jeweled mechanism, devoted to a mystical higher purpose – with lovely folk touches in the tone colors of the contrasting trio sections.
Then we get to the Adagio – with this movement of the eighth symphony standing tall and reaching very deep in music, song, vision. One might wonder, Does God hum to us? To the Angels? To the saints? To divine self? The long-breathed lines reach for transcendence, tinged with lament for the anguish of our human condition, light and darkness. Kubelik reveals himself as a great humanist, following upon an eccentric composer who somehow has nearly looked into the abyss. The variations emulate Beethoven in the famous slow movement of the great ninth symphony, and the technical miracle is that Kubelik does not need to over-emphasize the slow tempo marking to convey the sheer size of Bruckner’s musical thinking. (Compare with Reginald Goodall?) Ineffable, paragraph upon paragraph opens up inevitably, new depths newly born from depth. Profoundly internalized by Kubelik and his players, this adagio is surely the finest musical art, though we know it lives and pulses, waiting as a harbinger of its own subordination, eventually subsumed by the slow movement of the ninth symphony that Bruckner will leave unfinished.
The final movement is a juggernaut. Its martial flourishes limn sheer, fearsome survival, dusky morning lights dawning upon the grim battlefields of innumerable generations. Those long themes in many different gestures, all motion, gather more warmth, letting in more light, looking towards love, towards home despite all our insuperable frailties. Kubelik manages this very large musical and mystical culmination with unerring pacing, the discipline matched only by the recurring, outsized sense of articulate generosity.
I haven’t yet had a chance to hear the new super audio release of Christian Thielemann in Dresden doing the eighth symphony; but I doubt that it could cover more musical ground, or deeper musical ground, or communicate more truly and deeply than this Kubelik reading, now sprung free from the archive vaults. Is there a Bruckner ninth like this, still hidden in those vaults?
I could not argue with a listener who, on the basis of this disc, listed Kubelik as one of the greatest Brucknerians we have so far yet been privileged to hear. And remember. This was all, live.
Bravo, conductor. Bravo players. Thanks loads, German radio.