CD Review: BRUCKNER 9 with reconstructed finale (Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, John Gibbons)

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by Jim Allen on May 19, 2018



That there are over 100 recordings of Bruckner’s Ninth — his final and unfinished symphony — speaks to the enormous popularity of this spectacular creation. In 1926, American critic Paul Rosenfeld stated that “Bruckner’s symphonies have scarce commenced heaving their mighty volumes through time, before we know we are come into a world of deep breaths and far vistas and profound experience. Bruckner’s works are large in form as in conception.” Indeed, Bruckner found that he couldn’t complete his Ninth Symphony, even though he had been at it for nine years, leaving the last movement incomplete at the time of his death in 1896.

As a result, the symphony has often been performed with only the first three movements. However, Bruckner clearly intended this to be a work in four movements, as all his other symphonies were. While musicologists may debate which of the various reconstructions is closer to what the composer intended, the symphony sounds much more complete with the fourth movement (there have been several attempts to complete the symphony with a fourth movement based on Bruckner’s surviving manuscripts for the Finale). The Ninth is a vast, expansive, intellectual work, similar in certain respects to the eighth: the scherzo comes second, while the adagio comes third.

While there may never be a definitively convincing completion of the Finale (maybe Divine Intervention wanted this to be three movements), Nors. S. Josephson’s 1992 version fills the gaps in a completely different way. Some may prefer their Bruckner a bit more bombastic; I rather relished the relative sparseness of Josephson’s elaboration. In fact, you may need a score to find out where Bruckner ends and Josephson begins. There is to my ears no break in style, and that makes it really enjoyable. This is the first recording of Josephson’s completed last movement.

“Romantic” is not the word that springs to mind when I hear Bruckner’s Ninth. Certainly it is mesmerizing, but many refer to this symphony as a religious experience (a devout Catholic who never married, Bruckner dedicated this “to the beloved God”). Some may find themselves hearing one giant Biblical journey, while others (myself included) sense it as a spiritual explosion, especially in the way it ebbs and flows, pulling you in ever closer to another dimension. If you think I’m being dramatic, wait until you hear the this truly superb recording by Aarhus Symphony Orchestra on Danacord, conducted by the inspired John Gibbons. It has a smaller band than most recordings, but gives one of the finest renderings of the symphony; it has transparency of detail yet it is weighty.

The completion uses all the known material, including the sketches published by Alfred Orel (who created in 1934 the first edition to attempt to reproduce what Bruckner actually wrote), and the 10 years of labor by Josephson has produced a cogent, effective and musically engaging finale which deserves to be heard. This impression is heightened by the structure that Gibbons gives to the preceding movements, so that the finale emerges as just that without diminishing what has gone before or being an anticlimax.

Adding the reconstructed finale, this version runs about 80 minutes, so it fits on a single CD. The playing is simply excellent, and this version is well worth listening to. Either add it to your collection, or use this to begin one.

Anton BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9
with reconstructed Finale
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra; John Gibbons, conductor
Danacord | 4 tracks | 80:31 | released June 2, 2015
available at Amazon

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