Hans Knappertsbusch

Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 8 & 9

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Hans Knappertsbusch recorded Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 9 in D minor with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1950, and even though the appeal of this concert performance will be felt most strongly by collectors of historical recordings, Music & Arts has done a fine job in restoring this important document and made it clean, clear, and rich enough in sound quality to attract the general listener. Knappertsbusch's Ninth is cogent and urgent under his masterful direction: there is no shilly-shallying about the direction the music must take, and no dawdling over Bruckner's self-inflicted pauses, which are the symphony's worst flaws. With Knappertsbusch, the first movement is tightly argued and grimly determined, the Scherzo is brutal and compelling (though it has an unusually slow and uninteresting Trio), and the Adagio is majestic and radiant, so the trajectory of this unfinished symphony is laid out with the clarity of one that had a definite end point, and at no point does the music feel aimless. The Berlin Philharmonic is brilliant in execution and shattering in expression, so this has to be regarded as one of the orchestra's finest performances of this piece, whether on LP or CD, and hardcore Brucknerians will be quite impressed with this treasure from the vaults. The 1961 recording of Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor finds Knappertsbusch near the close of his career, but still in full command of his faculties and of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's skillful musicians. Knappertsbusch is quite expansive in this work, very much in line with mid-twentieth century practice; but this is not to say he takes the music too broadly or slowly, for which he was sometimes accused, because the tempos are generally in step with modern practices. His close attention to details makes the music seem correctly timed, and the massive scale of this symphony also seems to warrant the deliberate pacing. The live concert recording offers robust sound and most details are plainly audible, though the upper range seems slightly compressed and the orchestra seems a bit flattened and not as crisp as it should be. Yet considering its historical significance, since this was Knappertsbusch's last airing of the Eighth with the VPO, this is still a terrific sounding performance that deserves an attentive hearing from all devoted Bruckner fans and even a few listeners who have less experience with vintage recordings. For this remastered 2008 reissue, Music & Arts packaged the two symphonies together as a twofer, with the Ninth and the first movement of the Eighth on Disc 1, with the remaining Scherzo, Adagio, and Finale on Disc 2.

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