Simone Young

Bruckner: Sinfonie Nr. 8

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Continuing her survey of Anton Bruckner's symphonies, Australian conductor Simone Young presents the Symphony No. 8 in C minor in the "Urfassung" or original version of 1887, which will undoubtedly please devotees of her previous releases, but may surprise other listeners who are unprepared for the peculiarities of this version. Bruckner preserved the unexpurgated and unrevised scores of his symphonies for the day when future generations of performers would understand his intentions and reject the changes inflicted on his music by his well-meaning followers. But not all of Bruckner's first choices are sound or suitable, and the later 1890 edition of the Eighth is arguably better for its numerous improvements, in many cases made by the composer. For instance, the ending of the first movement here has a garish, triumphant coda in the major, which is completely out of character with the gloomy measures that precede it and poorly placed to prepare for the movements to come. Certainly, Bruckner's revised minor key ending to the movement is to be preferred, for it is in keeping with its overall tragic mood and does not create false expectations for what is to follow. Similarly, the first state of the Scherzo (with a largely different Trio) is uneven in orchestration, seems awkward in its modulations, and has several quirky, abortive ideas, whereas the later Scherzo is more impressive for its consistent scoring, smoother transitions, and steady unfolding of the massive, repetitive chord progressions. The Adagio is mostly the same as the later version, except for its greater length by 38 measures, and the Finale is quite close to the familiar edition, except for what seems like extraneous material that was later prudently cut. Most of these differences will matter little to listeners who are new to the symphony, but they are of sufficient importance to make serious Brucknerians weigh the two versions to decide which is preferable. Fortunately for admirers of the 1887 version, Young performs an inestimable service to the music and makes this flawed symphony feel as coherent as possible by leading the Hamburg Philharmonic with clarity and conviction. Sometimes, all it takes is the commitment of the conductor and the musicians to make the best defense for Bruckner, and if this remarkable SACD recording is persuasive, then none can gainsay it. Even so, it's a good idea to compare recordings of both accepted versions to know what all the fuss is about. Oehms provides magnificent sound, so this recording is well worth hearing for its extraordinary depth and richness.

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