SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Bernard Haitink – CSO Resound

Haitink and the CSO transformed the dipoles of Bruckner’s music-writing like packets of musical force.

Published on April 4, 2010

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Bernard Haitink – CSO Resound

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Bernard Haitink – CSO Resound Multichannel SACD – CSCR 901 706, 68 mins., [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Not only is it a work of great proportions, but Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony is irrefutably a work of consummate art and form. What better way to experience the profundity of the mighty Seventh but to revisit a performance of unequivocal significance. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) has an illustrious history in the performance of Bruckner’s music, particularly during the 22-year directorship of Sir Georg Solti from 1969-1991. To continue in this lineage, CSO has joined forces with Maestro Bernard Haitink, its music director at the time of this recording, to explore this work that oversaw the final chapters of the late Austro-German Romanticism.

Following an acclaimed release with Mahler’s Third Symphony, this second release on Bruckner’s Seventh from the CSO’s home label documents two attractive elements. First, the high-definition sound captured by engineers Christopher Willis and John Newton and the UK-based Classic Sound Limited on editing and mixing reinvigorates the four live performances that took place during May 2007. Second, an interesting symbiosis between layer and color prevails as an unifying theme in this album. The cover of this recording, for example, is an artwork entitled “Underpainting.” It depicts a visual canvas of multiple layers in colors to provoke a sensual perception in range, depth and structure. In essence, these elements share much in common with Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.

Composed in 1881-1883, the Seventh was the Symphony that gained Bruckner international success when it was first performed by Arthur Nikisch in Leipzig. What could have impressed audience then in 1883, as it had now in 2003 as exemplified from the present recording? Wagner and Viennese classicism would have been attractive contributions.

First, the music of Wagner had a lifelong impression on Bruckner’s own writing. But, particularly, it was “Parsifal” that had directly inspired the rich palette of sounds in the Seventh. To probe into this association, Haitink and the CSO turned a score of instrumental proportions into a soundworld of multi-faceted colors, perhaps even operatic in scale (although, interestingly, Bruckner never wrote an opera). Furthermore, Bruckner’s use of the “Wagner tubas,” which he introduced in the coda of the Adagio, was a tribute to the greater operatic master. Here, the famous brass section of the CSO delivered this passage from 18:29 to 19:45, and again 21:13 to 22:18 with such profundity that it had an infliction of pain and grief if one understood the context in which this coda excerpt was written (premonition to Wagner’s death). From the dipoles of simplistic quietude, heard right in the opening theme of the Allegro moderato, to the spiritual climax compounded by courage and sublimity in the Adagio, these musical dipoles impacted listeners like focused beams. Haitink and the CSO transformed the dipoles of Bruckner’s music-writing like packets of musical force. The recorded sound recapitulated these radiant elements with natural definition, in part aided from the acoustics of Orchestral Hall in Chicago.

Second, Bruckner wrote the Scherzo of this Seventh Symphony first. He was perhaps looking backwards into the Classical traditions inspired by Schubert and his likes. If there was one piece that evolved into the birth of Bruckner’s Seventh, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony would have been a relevant choice, the music of which molded Bruckner’s own affinity with Austrian rusticity through the use of music language. Approaching this concept with an unostentatious but commendable attitude, Haitink led the CSO to unfold with a granite-like orchestral sonority. This was inescapable in the final moments from 12:06 to 13:01 of the Finale. Certainly, the balance of structure and form is an unknown variable behind any successful performances, and this is particularly important in the complex world of Bruckner’s music when over-sentiment can pollute a musical experience. Here, Haitink resolves these challenges not only with honesty and sincerity, but together with the CSO musicians, they gives a tasteful reading to a symphony that was a homage to the colorful past.

– Patrick P.L. Lam




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