Bruckner: 9 Symphonies

Herbert von Karajan / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

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Bruckner: 9 Symphonies Review

by Blair Sanderson

Between 1975 and 1981, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic recorded legacy-worthy performances for Deutsche Grammophon of Anton Bruckner's nine numbered symphonies, and this 2010 box set brings them all together in one convenient edition. From conducting the symphonies for over four decades, Karajan learned to control and sustain the rhythmic pulse over a long time frame, and this became his special claim to fame in Bruckner: a serious challenge most other conductors wouldn't take up and a goal Karajan constantly strove to achieve. As a result of his concentrated efforts and of maintaining a clear focus on Bruckner's symphonic trajectories by directing all the music's mounting energies to a cathartic release at the end, these performances are regarded by many as belonging in a class by themselves and impossible to overrate for their unity, coherence, and clarity. Of course, any large symphonic cycle can and should be interpreted in different ways, and the great recordings by Eugen Jochum, Günter Wand, and Georg Tintner are alternatives for listeners who dislike Karajan's driven conducting, and have won admirers for their transparent sound and somewhat more gemütlich style. But Karajan's Bruckner is robust and imposing, and these performances command respect, even if they aren't universally loved. It's worth noting that the layout of the symphonies in this package involves breaks, carrying some movements over to the next disc to allow all nine symphonies to fit on nine CDs. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is extraordinary throughout, but listeners should know that only the first three symphonies were recorded DDD, while the remaining six are ADD recordings.

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