Monday, April 30, 2012

Bruckner 8 by Jaap van Zweden and DSO at Myerson Symphony Hall

Bruckner, Symphony No. 8
Dallas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jaap van Zweden
Myerson Symphony Hall, Dallas TX
29 April 2012

Jaap van Zweden has been recording a Bruckner cycle with the Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra for Octavia Records. The 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 9th have already been released. The 8th is due out later this year. On the strength of this performance, the recording will be a compulsory purchase for Brucknerians, even though in Dallas Bruckner has home orchestra advantage, as well as the acoustics of Myerson Hall, which van Zweden has described as the best Bruckner Hall anywhere. Certainly, I have his other Bruckner recordings on order.

In this concert van Zweden played the 1890 Nowak edition. The character of his interpretation was in evidence from the very first bars of the opening Allegro moderato, with the opening theme very expressively played and shaped. Van Zweden's Bruckner is midway between the lyrical and the monumental. He uses the DSO strings, woodwind, and harps to excellent effect in the more singing passages, but never loses touch with the overall architectonic of Bruckner's greatest symphony. The final part of the first movement really showed his interpretation to best advantage, with a delicate rendition of the coda following a powerful and well-paced climax.

Perhaps the greatest strength of van Zweden's approach to Bruckner is his skill in shaping the music - at every level, from the individual phrase and theme to the contours an entire movement and the overall unity of the symphony. I logged the following timings:

I = 15'38"
II = 13'39"
III = 26'04"
IV = 20'48"

The numbers confirm my impression of a fast Scherzo and an expansive Adagio. The tempo of the finale was very well judged after the Adagio, with the slower sections of the finale seeming continuous with the pace of the preceding movement. This no doubt contributed to the security with which van Zweden navigated the multiple themes and complexities of the final movement. There was a similar connection between the Adagio and the Trio of the second movement.

As so often with performances of the 8th, the centerpiece was the Adagio, which built steadily and inexorably through Bruckner's numerous stops, restarts, and halting transitions towards the great climax - at which point, incidentally, the acoustics of Myerson Hall made the triangle clearly audible. This movement displayed the DSO to best advantage - extremely expressive strings, delicate woodwind, and very secure brass. The timpanist drove the pulse of the symphony throughout.

In sum, a very good performance from a conductor who clearly has Bruckner in his blood and an orchestra that can do more than justice to his vision. I look forward to listening to van Zweden's Bruckner recordings with the Netherlands Radio Orchestra - and also to his Parsifal!