Kurt Masur / Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Schoenberg: A Survivor from Warsaw; Bruckner: Symphony No. 7

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The pairing of Arnold Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw and Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 on this 2012 album by Kurt Masur and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is an unusual programming choice, but the disconcerting contrast of these works is thought provoking. A Survivor from Warsaw is short, disturbing, and concentrated in its violence, and anyone who comprehends the enormity of the Nazis' atrocities will feel the force of Friedhelm Eberle's accusatory narration and the power of the Israeli Opera Chorus as it intones the Shema Israel at the work's climax. After this piece, the Bruckner performance is expansive and comparatively peaceful, and the Seventh seems a world away from Schoenberg's bitter indictment. Yet when one considers (with a degree of discomfort) that Hitler's favorite composer was Bruckner, and that the funereal Adagio of the Seventh was composed to the memory of Richard Wagner, its appearance in close proximity to A Survivor from Warsaw may give knowledgeable listeners pause for reflection, if not a chill. Aside from these points, the performances were actually recorded at separate times (Schoenberg in 2006, Bruckner in 1995), and the performances have some of the roughness and noisiness that attend other live recordings by the Israel Philharmonic. Masur leads the Schoenberg with apprent firmness, giving the music its propulsion and impact, but he gives the Bruckner a leisurely reading that at times feels lax, because of the slow tempos and some imprecise playing. There are many better performances of the Seventh, and this disc shouldn't be the only one newcomers hear.

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