Monday, March 9, 2015

Bruckner 8 from Barenboim and Boulez

Bruckner, Symphony No. 8

Staatskapelle Berlin
Daniel Barenboim
Accentus 102178 Blu Ray
(also available on DVD: Accentus  202178)

Wiener Philharmoniker
Pierre Boulez
Euroarts DVD 2012756

Here are two interestingly contrasting performances of Bruckner’s great Symphony No. 8 in C minor (both using the Haas edition).  The Boulez performance was recorded live over two days in September 1996 at St Florian in Linz – the church where Bruckner was the organist and where he was buried. This is Boulez’s first Bruckner recording and was previously released on CD by Deutsche Grammophon. The Barenboim performance was recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie in June 2010 and is from his third complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies. Surprisingly, the Boulez performance is the more satisfying of the two, although Barenboim has many merits and would shine very brightly in different company.

Both discs have PCM sound (which is what is being reviewed). The Barenboim also has DTS HD Master Audio and the Boulez has Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound quality on both recordings is more than acceptable. Barenboim has a better picture, but the videography from St Florian is more compelling (using, as it does, the full range of visual props, including skulls from the crypt).

Image result for boulez bruckner 8 dvdAs one might expect, Boulez is a very rhythmically precise Bruckner conductor, presenting the music with great clarity. And yet the overall effect is much less “cool” than one might have expected from such an arch-modernist. He particularly emphasizes Bruckner’s harmonic adventurousness. The dissonances in the opening movement are very much highlighted. The harmonic waves crest dramatically and then give way to the swell. In the Finale (probably Bruckner’s most ambitious movement) Boulez masterfully brings out the segmentation of the movement and its overall structure through Bruckner’s frequent changes of musical logic.

Image result for barenboim bruckner 8 dvdIt is apparent from the very beginning of Barenboim’s performance that he is from the monumental school of Bruckner conducting. He brings a sure sense of structure coupled with excitement and drama. The first movement, often over-shadowed by the Adagio and Finale, is very well balanced with an effective coda. The Scherzo maintains a constant sense of momentum, with real depth in the Trio, particularly in the hymn-like section. The movement is maintained well throughout the Finale. All in all this is a very good performance. I just didn’t learn as much from it as from the Boulez performance.