Composer: Anton Bruckner
Orchestra: Staatskapelle Dresden
Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Number of Discs: 2
Format: APE (image+cue)
Size: 379 MB
01. Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (edition by Haas): I. Allegro moderato
02. Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (edition by Haas): II. Scherzo: Allegro moderato – Trio: Langsam
03. Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (edition by Haas): III. Adagio: Feierlich, langsam, doch nicht schleppend
01. Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108 (edition by Haas): IV. Finale: Feierlich, nicht schnell
A stunning Bruckner 8, beautifully played and captured in great sound.
Thielemann’s Dresden Bruckner 8 comes from the Semper Opera building in 2009, Thielemann being a sudden replacement for the ‘indisposed’ Fabio Luisi. It was due to these performances that both Thilemann and the Dresdeners decided to make things a long term commitment. All this bodes well for continuing a great Wagner, Bruckner and Strauss tradition in Dresden. It’s as though you can hear the Dresdners say, “let Leipzig become the new Mahler central (Chailly), we’ll continue to build upon our Wagner, Bruckner and Strauss tradtions”. Well, I’m projecting, to say the least. But it can’t be far from the truth either.
Regardless, this is a Bruckner 8th for the ages – certainly one for our current age. I’ve never liked the scherzo performed quickly. Yet, Thielemann has convinced me, beyond anybody else, that it can work in a more fleet, less ponderous fashion. His attention to phrasing and dynamics works wonders here. The first movement has just outrageous tension, yet without the brass sounding like a constant shout-fest. The Adagio is as sublime and heavenly as one is ever likely to hear it. I especially love the passage work after the movement’s climax, where the quartet of Wagner tubas (plus bass tuba) glide us to a truly sublime and gentle conclusion (excellent Wagner Tubas in Dresden). But for me, it’s the finale that separates Thielemann from most of the pact.
Right off the bat, let me state that the timing of 24:50 is misleading for the finale. There’s quite a bit of applause left on at the end (I hate that), so the real timing is actually less than 24 minutes. At first, I was taken back by Thielemann’s ‘fast charge’ at the start of the finale, as it robs a bit of clarity from the ‘teletype’ rhythms in the strings. But upon repeated listening, I’ve now decided that he’s absolutely right. It also helps that the Dresden timpanist makes a nice crescendo on his ‘answer’ to the brass fanfares. In fact, throughout the entire performance, the Dresden timpanist is far more ‘artful’ than to just pound loudly from start to finish, as so many timpanists seem to do in Bruckner. But what really seals the deal for me, is the way Thielemann handles Bruckner’s problematic coda (ending).
Thielemann does a magnificent job with the gradual buildup to the final peroration in the finale. He captures the ‘mystery’ leading up to the end, yet adjusts the tempo just slightly through the various subsections leading up to the first loud outburst in the brass (I’m still talking about the coda). When we get to the loud outbursts – with their various ‘themes’ working in cross rhythms – Thilemann stretches them for all they’re worth, but without also making the brass sound as though they’re running out of breath. Even better yet, is Thielemann’s handling of last three, “Three Blind Mice” notes of the entire symphony. This is the spot where so much work in this symphony can be so quickly (and so easily) undone. It’s hard to describe just exactly what Thilemann does here, but he makes it work. The very last note actually has some length to it.
I’ve been going into specific detail to try explain just one thing: why Thielemann’s 8th works better for me than pretty much any other modern recording of Bruckner’s full length, ‘magnus opus’ 8th symphony – a work that so often fails, in the end, to justify its heavenly length and incredibly ponderous weight. Thielamnn succeeds in making this sound Teutonic, but without also making it sound like a way over-sized plate of wurstel and sauerkraut, accompanied by way too much beer. A poor analogy, I know, but I think you get my point. It also helps to have a great Bruckner orchestra like the Dresden Staatskapelle at your disposal.
Now, indulge for a minute: I want to ‘go off the tracks’ to talk about the accompanying booklet. It has many gorgeous photos, and plenty of detail about the new marriage between Thielemann and the Staatskapelle. They talk in terms of a German ‘home coming’ of sorts. What the essays fail to do, is to make it clear why a German love-fest matters in a modern, all inclusive, ‘global economy’ world. They fail to point out that Bruckner’s music is every bit as universal as that of Gustav Mahler (who I love), Beethoven, or anybody else. It’s this kind of attitude that keeps Bruckner’s music meaningful almost exclusively to Austro/Germans, sycophantic Asians and nerdy “Dungeons and Dragons” types. Come on Profil, let’s try a little harder to explain why anybody and everybody could gain from Bruckner’s music.