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|Anton Bruckner, Herbert von Karajan, Wiener Philharmoniker|
Bruckner: Symphony No 8
Herbert von Karajan identified with the Eighth perhaps more intensely than with any other score in the repertory; it is significant that in February 1989, in what proved to be his last performances outside of Austria, he b... more »
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Herbert von Karajan identified with the Eighth perhaps more intensely than with any other score in the repertory; it is significant that in February 1989, in what proved to be his last performances outside of Austria, he brought it to New York with the VPO and made it the centerpiece of a three-concert engagement. The air of finality was heavy at those concerts, and Karajan, determined to go out as a conqueror, did just that. This 1988 recording comes very close to recapturing the experience of that live performance. Karajan's careful pacing gives the Eighth time to unfurl, allowing the mystery and tenderness of Bruckner's vision to radiate from some place deep within the paroxysmal intensity of the symphony's argument. The cumulative effect is shattering. Throughout, the Viennese play beyond their limits, as if their lives depended on it. The recorded sound is vivid and of very wide dynamic range. --Ted Libbey
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A short guide for buying Bruckner's 8th symphony on CD
Peter Akerlund | Stockhom, Sweden | 12/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First of all this is not intended as a detailed review on Karajan's reading of Bruckner's 8th, but rather a guide for people that consider buying a Bruckner 8th on CD. I have acquired seven Bruckner 8th's thus far and here is my view on them:1)Karajan,Wiener Philharmoniker,Studio,DDD,1988,83 min,2 CD's,Full Price
This recording is something extraordinary, one of these recordings where everything went right. Karajan, knowing his own death is approaching rapidly, conducts with uttermost dedication and concentration throughout. The outer movements are almost perfect. You have goose bumps all over your body in the great climax in the middle of the sublime Adagio. Sound is of wide dynamic range and showcases every detail of the symphony. Wiener Philharmoniker play as if they are in trance, the entire orchestra performs with near perfection. One example of this is the Wagner Tuba playing at the end of the adagio. They play with absolute tonal precision in this extremely demanding part where they are supposed to play slowly and quietly. 2)Haitink,Wiener Philharmoniker,Studio,DDD,1995,83 min,2 CD's,Full Price
This recording has almost perfect sound, partly thanks to Volker Strauss, renowned engineer for Philips, whose balancing etc. is of highest quality. Orchestra plays equally well here as in the Karajan version. Both of these two recordings use the preferred Haas Edition that for instance ends in pianissimo in the first movement. The performance is characterized by a sweeping, broad, ever expanding sound with extraordinary layering of sounds where each section of the orchestra are heard in layers on top of each other.3)Barenboim,Berliner Philharmoniker,Live,DDD,1994,77 min,1 CD,Medium Price
This version is recorded in full, warm sound with enormous dynamic range. Crowd noises are nowhere to be heard even though it's recorded live. However, Barenboim is heard vocalizing on a couple of occasions where the string sections are to play fortissimo. Tempi is nicely controlled and the Berlin string section has this homogenous, full-blooded, vibrant tone which releases the enormous tensions in this massive symphony.4)Boulez,Wiener Philharmoniker,Live St.Florian Church (where Bruckner is buried),DDD,1996,76 min,1 CD,Full Price
Boulez, not normally associated with Bruckner's music, conducts a performance with perfect balance that conveys every detail with razor-sharp precision. This recording is perfect for people new to Bruckner's music. Boulez has an intellectual, architectural approach where he's in full control of the music throughout. However, this recording lacks that extra bit of emotion, spirituality and release of tension which caracterize the Karajan and Haitink versions.5)Jochum,Staatskapelle Dresden,Church,ADD,1976,76 min, 2 CD's (coupled with Bruckner's 9th),Budget Price
Sound is warm and comforting and Jochum's approach is different from the versions above in that his tempi is flexible. For instance his Adagio is 27 min, while his Finale only is 20 min. This results in an extremely emotional, almost spiritual experience. Only drawback with this recording is the slight lack of weight and volume in the brass section at climaxes. The adagio and first movement are particularly sublime.6)Horenstein,London Symphony Orchestra,Live Royal Albert Hall,ADD,1970,82 min,2 CD's (coupled with 9th symphony),Medium Price
Horenstein conducts a bold and original version of Bruckner's 8th. The sound is a bit noisy (crowd noises plus hiss noise) and not crystal clear as in recordings 1-4 above. I would recommend this version mainly for Brucknerites, i.e. experienced Bruckner listeners. It's full of power and drive but lacks somewhat in the pianissimo sections and the adagio. Emotions are not as perfectly depicted as in the Karajan, Haitink and Barenboim recordings.7)Tintner,NSO of Ireland,Studio,DDD,1996,89 min,2 CD's (coupled with Bruckner's "nullte symphony"),Budget Price
Tintner uses the unusual original version of the 8th symphony, which for instance ends in a triumphant manner towards the end of the first movement, contrary to the Haas/Nowak editions. The string section of the Irish orchestra lacks the weight and intensity that for example the Berliners possess. The brass section on the other hand plays extremely well, with volume, precision and total dedication. Tintner is as always in full control and have that special feeling for how Bruckner's music is to be performed. Like Karajan, Wand, Celibidache he has this architectural, monumental approach with few major tempo variations. Jochum and Furtwangler belong to that other school of Bruckner conductors which supports major tempo variations. This recording of the 8th, coupled with an excellent rendition of the nullte, should be purchased for those wanting to hear Bruckner's original, unrevised version of the 8th. There are some apparent differences from the Haas/Nowak editions, for example regarding some Cymbal/Timpani clashes.To summarize I would suggest the Haitink/Karajan versions for those prepared to pay for 2 fully priced CD's of this symphony. The Barenboim recording is perhaps the recording where you get the most value for money. Boulez version is excellent as a first Bruckner 8th, an introduction to the musical world of this great Austrian composer. Tintner, Jochum and Horenstein all have their own special charm and character, but I would mainly recommend them for Bruckner completists wanting to acquire additional versions of this symphony. Additional versions I have yet to purchase are the Celibidache/Munich and Skrowaczewski/Saarbrucken versions in particular. Which version you finally decide on buying isn't all that important since this symphony sounds impressive whatever conductor/orchestra you choose."
The Karajan-Giulini non-contest decided
MartinP | Nijmegen, The Netherlands | 01/25/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This recording is usually advertised as the best Bruckner 8 on disc, so I was eager to get to know it. I've always been puzzled by the fact that Karajan, that cool, haughty, cosmopolitan aristocrat, should hold the key to Bruckner's later works, as seems to be the case judging from his DG recordings from the 6th upward. His character seems more in line with Richard Strauss and in consequence greatly at odds with Bruckner's personality and his style, which in spite of its superficial grandiloquence is essentially introverted, tormented and unmistakably obsessive-compulsive. My main comparison was Giulini`s recording, made a few years earlier with the same orchestra, and usually considered a worthy runner-up to the Karajan. Unlike you might expect, given the same orchestra, the same recording venue and company, and two conductors both well beyond their pensionable age, the readings are very different indeed. Karajan opts for the analytical, objective approach. He produces an amazingly clear and differentiated sound picture in which just about everything is in the right place at the right time. True, the horns are a bit too recessed, and the euphoric trumpet fanfares in the finale get lost in the general hubbub, but the blame for that probably lies with the technicians. Rhythm is taut (even the opening tremolando seems to keep time exactly), and the articulation veers more toward the staccato than the legato. Tempo's are generally uncontroversial, though there are a few uncalled for gear changes (like a sudden speeding up at the harp-passage in the middle of Scherzo`s Trio). Sometimes the result sounds a bit too nervous and agitated for my liking, but then again Bruckner did suffer from more than his fair share of neuroses. Giulini in contrast feels very broad, although in fact his overall timing is only 4 minutes longer than Karajan's, a difference that is accounted for by the Adagio alone (and possibly by some differences between the respective Nowak and Haas editions that are played). He very much concentrates on the expression and the deeper, presumably religious implications of the music. He finds more mystery in the adagio (where Karajan's harpist suffers from a percussive, glassy recorded sound to the detriment of the most ethereal passages in that movement), and his scherzo feels less like an oversized barn dance, and more like some primeval life force. Karajan's orchestra sounds more close-up, a bit confined even, and also smaller, whereas the Giulini conveys the impression of instrumental forces as huge as the music itself, set in an ample acoustic space. In general Giulini benefits from better sound recording, more naturally balanced, and more glowing and smooth, enhancing the impression that this music really isn`t from this earth. His fortes come through more powerful and transparent even than those on the Karajan disc. Maybe the Karajan, like the Giulini, needs to be polished up a bit for a long overdue mid-price reissue?
To sum up, both these eminent conductors (one of whom by now, Deo volente, has had his chance to catch up with Bruckner on exactly how to do this piece) have compelling things to say about this music, and which one you prefer will to some extent be a matter of taste. My impression is that with Karajan you scale the heights surrounded by rugged, majestic mountain scenery, and while you are rewarded by stunning vistas once the top is reached, you remain solidly earthbound; it is Giulini who lifts you up beyond the snowy peaks, straight into the sky. For me he is the winner in this non-contest."
Bruce Hodges | New York, NY | 04/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1989, I was lucky to be in the audience for von Karajan's performance of this piece at Carnegie Hall. When the aging conductor emerged from the side door, there was a soft gasp in the audience as an escort helped him make his way to the podium. But once there, the conductor's arms were raised in total confidence, and I will never forget the image: it reminded me of two giant wings unfurling, as if he were saying, "Get ready, we're about to take off." This recording captures much of that mesmerizing experience, not to mention the conductor's final thoughts on this incredible symphony. His other recordings of the Eighth - the classic one on DG with the Berlin Philharmonic, and an even earlier one on EMI, also with Berlin - are superb, but this one is in a class of its own. The Vienna Philharmonic play with consummate skill, precision and devotion. All four movements have many pleasures throughout - far too many moments to enumerate here. The great "Adagio," taken at a very slow, majestic tempo, is just about as sublime as anyone could want. Some listeners may prefer a slightly faster, more flowing approach, but I am (generally) in the camp of those who favor a more deliberate pace. When the music is this beautiful, you want it to last as long as possible. There are many, many fine recordings of this piece by other conductors. I find Boulez's reading (also with Vienna) surprisingly satisfying, and there will always be a special place in my soul for Klaus Tennstedt's version on EMI with the London Philharmonic, not to mention the historic one with Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw. This, however, is a unique experience and is well worth the two-disc investment. Although officially, von Karajan's last recording was the Bruckner Seventh, this Eighth "feels" more like the conductor's final statement, and a most memorable and touching good-bye it is."