During the last years of his life Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) struggled to complete his Symphony No. 9 in D minor. He was not in good health and had spent a good deal of time revising earlier works. He wrote to the conductor Hermann Levi on 10th February 1891 that he was resuming work on his new symphony. A calendar entry for 24th May 1895 records that he commenced work on the finale. A bout of pneumonia slowed progress but the composer worked on the finale right up to the morning of the day that he died. He left 200 folios containing anything from fragmentary sketches to fully orchestrated passages.
During his last days Bruckner stated that, if he was not allowed time to finish the symphony then his Te Deum should be substituted for the finale. In recent times there have been performing versions prepared of the finale resulting in performances of a ‘complete’ symphony, most notably the recording by Simon Rattle and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for EMI in 2012.
However, since Ferdinand Löwe’s premiere of the first three movements of the symphony in Vienna in 1903 it has always been performed without a finale, standing just as it is, as a fine testament to this composer.
A recording of a live performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No.9 with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra www.concertgebouworkest.nl under their Chief Conductor, Mariss Jansons www.opus3artists.com/artists/mariss-jansons has just been released by RCO Live www.concertgebouworkest.nl/en/Shop/?c=RCO+live
Mariss Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra bring a wonderfully hushed, pensive opening to the first movement Feierlich: Misterioso before rising in the brass over quivering strings. Jansons takes tremendous care as he slowly develops the music with fine phrasing and control of dynamics, building to the first climax that receives a terrific weight and authority, the tempi always held in check. There is a lovely light touch to the pizzicato strings and flowing string passages that retain a pensive quality. This conductor provides the most exquisite control of dynamics, shaping this music so well. He can certainly push the music forward when needed, though retaining a great subtlety. There are some beautifully phrased moments that lead to grand peaks and later the music races forward to some spectacularly fine outbursts with terrific playing from the orchestra. Jansons knows just how to build to these moments. Later there are passages that bring such a depth of feeling after the climaxes have passed. The music builds naturally again to a fine climax topped off by the brass of the RCO before the most finely textured lead up to the coda, full of the most impressive of Bruckner’s harmonies and a coda full of weight and grandeur.
Jansons’ lightness of touch is revealed again in the fleet, beautifully paced Scherzo: Bewegt, lebhaft – Trio. Schnell, with all due weight given to the striding chords that follow. He exposes the dramatic rhythms and fine harmonies beautifully and is not afraid to let go whilst always maintaining a finely control. There is a wonderfully fleet and clear textured Trio section with some beautifully shaped phrases. When the main theme returns, the pizzicato strings contrast wonderfully with the dramatic striding passages that follow. Jansons brings a really Austrian rustic feel to some of the fleet dancing passages with a jollity that is often missed, providing a real contrast with the drama elsewhere.
There is an exquisitely shaped opening to the Adagio. Langsam feierlich as Jansons increases the emotion by subtly holding back. The music rises to peaks of luminous grandeur through the most finely paced passages, always holding a fine tempo. The strings of the RCO are really very fine in the flowing passages and there are many fine woodwind and brass passages. Jansons reveals moments of the most exquisite detail and when the music suddenly pushes ahead the effect is stunning. He builds the rising passages with a fine drama and control, highlighting some of Bruckner’s lovely little details, to a magnificent final climax hitting a subtle discord, before quietening for a gently glowing coda, and what a coda to end on.
Mariss Jansons very much takes the long view, building architecturally throughout. He reveals many fine harmonies, rhythms and details in this terrific performance.
Jansons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra receive an excellent live recording from the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, full of depth. Applause is excised. There are informative booklet notes.
This is a very desirable release from one of the finest partnerships around today.