Bruckner Critics Discussion

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lennygoran
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Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by lennygoran » Mon Jan 30, 2017 8:48 pm

Funny I enjoy Bruckner--I always think I'm not giving him enough time. Regards, Len

When a Composer Just Doesn’t Do It for You (No Matter How Much You Listen)

By CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM and ZACHARY WOOLFE JAN. 30, 2017


America’s first-ever Bruckner cycle is over. Daniel Barenboim and his Staatskapelle Berlin spent nearly two weeks at Carnegie Hall, playing the nine sprawling symphonies of the Austrian master Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) in nine remarkable concerts that culminated in the visionary, unfinished Ninth on Sunday afternoon. Two critics for The New York Times, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim and Zachary Woolfe, were there — neither for the whole cycle, but each for a healthy chunk.

ZACHARY WOOLFE I think we should come clean right off the bat, Corinna. Neither of us went into this as particularly big Bruckner fans. What was your beef?

CORINNA DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM I’ve always found it hard to make any genuine emotional connection to Bruckner’s music. His symphonies seemed impressive, all right, and those glittering brass fanfares can be thrilling. But the endless development sections, with their incessant repetitions of a motif, tend to suck all the flavor out of an idea. And there always seemed to be an air of pomposity to the huge (we’re talking 20 minutes plus) movements.

WOOLFE For me there’s always been a sense that his symphonies don’t take place in the real world. You’re either in the middle of hellishly pummeling “Lord of the Rings”-style battles or you’re at the transcendent Pearly Gates. There feels like little in between. Many people clearly respond to that intensely heightened quality, but pseudo-medieval self-importance has never really been my bag.


The immersive aspect of this cycle did make an impact on me — particularly with a composer like Bruckner, whose symphonies all feel, in a way, so alike, digging deeper rather than spreading over more territory. And yet the later symphonies integrate moods and material more powerfully: There’s something so awkward about the Fifth — the meandering buildup of the final movement! — compared with the inexorable focus of the Eighth. (Though even in that later work, we are trudged through transformation after transformation of the burly “Game of Thrones”-like theme in the Scherzo.)
Continue reading the main story

DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM I tried my best to listen to the Second with an open mind. But the lack of flow, which some of Bruckner’s contemporaries skewered, really stood out. Bruckner said that the pauses he used to separate blocks of thematic material were like an orator drawing breath, but what came across was a nervous and inexperienced public speaker.

That said, I heard six symphonies over 10 days, and the level of playing was uniformly impressive. Hearing this music live is also a whole different experience from recordings: Nothing beats the thrill of feeling the ground vibrate under your feet during a timpani roll, or absorbing the shock wave of a brass section at full tilt.

WOOLFE This orchestra made as good a case for the music as I’ve ever heard live. Mr. Barenboim kept it vital, flowing: He didn’t linger either on the bombast or the Adagio exhalations. The playing had power and transparency, a real sense of layers. I was so struck in the first movement of the Ninth by the coexistence of milky winds, spiraling strings, roaring brasses and the slightest shudder of timpani; so many colors and textures, in perfect balance.

DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM My experience in the hall was inevitably colored by what has happened in the world, beginning with a presidential inauguration that was heavy on nationalist rhetoric. Perhaps my biggest gripe about Bruckner has been how perfectly suited his music is to communal veneration. A lot of people who love Mahler also love Bruckner, and there are similarities. But Mahler always puts the individual — the doubting, neurotic individual — at the center. In Bruckner, the triumphant hero of too many movements seems to be a “we.”

Take the Scherzo of the Ninth, its driving rhythm pounded out in unison by the huge string section: wildness tamed and bunched into a collective. It seems to contain all that is both seductive and terrifying about the unified energy of the masses — what the Polish dissident poet Czeslaw Milosz describes as the “trireme of the totalitarian state, speeding ahead with outspread oars.” It’s music to go to battle to — and the Nazis did, making Bruckner the star of their weekly classical broadcasts in the latter years of World War II.

WOOLFE It was impossible to ignore the events going on outside Carnegie Hall. And they were on Mr. Barenboim’s mind, too: He gave a stirring speech after the first concert about the ability of America to “make the world great.”

But what sometimes gets to me is the opposite of your reaction. I find Bruckner too individual, too focused on a single, seemingly autobiographical figure — ever-besieged, ever-triumphant. (White, male, mocked by urban elites for his provincial manners and dress — sound familiar?) His symphonies may rouse the crowd — Nazi or otherwise — but their basic narratives kept feeling so insular at a moment so focused on communal action.

DA FONSECA-WOLLHEIM That’s an interesting way to put it. I sometimes felt it wasn’t individual enough. Or, rather, not sufficiently embodied: a kind of sexless protagonist grappling with abstract demons. The dance movements in Bruckner are always correct, rarely sensual. But by the final weekend, I did start to enjoy the physicality of the sound itself — and yes, the Berlin Staatskapelle can whip up a glorious one — as an end in itself.

And that unfinished Ninth finally produced the heart-in-your-throat emotional identification that I had been waiting for. The Adagio is built on a gesture of a minor ninth, a huge upward scooping interval that seems to express both hubris and hope.

Of course, this wasn’t supposed to be the last movement. But as it was, Barenboim’s epic Bruckner traversal ended with the horns holding a radiant but scarily fragile note for what seems like an eternity. For me, it was an appropriate question mark, left hanging over all the musical and political turbulence of the past two weeks.



https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/arts ... views&_r=0

Belle
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by Belle » Mon Jan 30, 2017 9:57 pm

Absolutely brilliant explication of the whys and wherefores! They've both articulated my own ideas far more eloquently than I could myself. I'm hardly a neophyte from the "Less is More" School - but I've tried my hardest with both Bruckner and Mahler and they both have alluded me with their symphonies exactly as stated here.

John F
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by John F » Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:27 am

To me, much of what they say about their responses to Bruckner is not credible - that is, I don't believe they actually felt it. Bruckner's symphonies do present difficulties to first-time listeners, notably their sheer length and their tireless repetitiousness. But these two are professional critics, they've been listening to classical music with a critical ear for many years, Bruckner's major symphonies have been performed many times in New York and recorded very often, so they must long since have come to terms with Bruckner's style; to talk about it as if they were neophytes is a pose. And not a helpful one for Times readers who may actually be Bruckner neophytes and can use the guidance of an experienced listener.

I first heard a Bruckner symphony at 15, when the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra came to Leeds, where my family was living during our year abroad, and played the 7th under its music director Eduard van Beinum. Shortly before the performance the BBC did one or more programs about this and the 8th, which the orchestra had just recorded, so I was somewhat prepared and indeed looking forward to it rather than being blindsided by a solid hour of Brucknerism. (What I wasn't prepared for was the thrilling sound of a great orchestra in full cry, from a close-up seat.) My father, who took me to the concert and I believe hadn't heard the BBC programs, wasn't very positive about the music, though both my parents had extensive knowledge and very fine taste in classical music generally. In our case, then, the kind of informed and positive guidance I've spoken of may be what made the difference.

Another positive factor in my early exposure to Bruckner was doubtless the style of the conductor. As van Beinum's Bruckner recordings show, he moved the music along, not luxuriating in slow tempos like Karajan and Jochum; his first movement of the 8th symphony is Beethovenesque in its urgency and dramatic power, and the scherzo really is a scherzo. Seems like nobody listens to those recordings any more or talks about them, but they're on YouTube for those who care to hear.

John Francis

jserraglio
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jan 31, 2017 10:51 am

All things Bruckner here on John Berky's site, including a complete commercial recordings discog and the Bruckner Society of America.
https://www.abruckner.com
I'm tempted to believe that AB's cycle is the most affecting of the Romantic Age. My favorite perf is by the Chicago led by Barenboim on DG. Also like Asahina/Osaka and Maazel/BRSO, but I am currently going thru HvK/BPO on Amazon Prime Music streaming service. Nice not to have to buy the actual discs in order to listen. The first Bruckner I ever heard was this record in Cuyahoga County's Public Library and it blew me away.

Image

maestrob
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by maestrob » Tue Jan 31, 2017 12:01 pm

Belle: I'm sorry to hear that Bruckner & Mahler don't quite reach you. I've been a fan of both composers since my teenage years, so it's not an age thing, just a matter of taste, I suspect. My darling spouse also feels the way you do, btw, yet she loves Wagner, so go figure!

Anyhow, if anyone knows Bruckner, it's Barenboim, whose recent set of DVD's featuring the later symphonies (starting w/ IV) has recently been made available to great acclaim. The review posted smacks of condescension and really put me off: I've loved the later symphonies all my life, and have grown to like even the earlier ones even with all their weaknesses.

That said, I would rank IV (revised), VII, VIII & IX as Bruckner's best works.

jserraglio
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by jserraglio » Wed Feb 01, 2017 6:30 am

Barenboim conducts the Ninth. Carnegie Hall Jan. 29, 2017 on Medici.TV video.

Daniel Barenboim brings the cycle of the revered Austrian master's nine numbered symphonies to its close.

http://www.medici.tv/#!/daniel-barenboi ... negie-hall

available for 85 more days as of Feb 1

maestrob
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by maestrob » Wed Feb 01, 2017 11:31 am

Thanks for that! :D

THEHORN
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by THEHORN » Fri Feb 03, 2017 3:03 pm

These two Times critics are unfortunately almost totally clueless about Bruckner . Their understanding of this great compose is almost non-existent . Embarrassing ! he Times could do better than these two . Sheesh !

CharmNewton
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by CharmNewton » Sat Feb 04, 2017 12:59 am

jserraglio wrote:All things Bruckner here on John Berky's site, including a complete commercial recordings discog and the Bruckner Society of America.
https://www.abruckner.com
I'm tempted to believe that AB's cycle is the most affecting of the Romantic Age. My favorite perf is by the Chicago led by Barenboim on DG. Also like Asahina/Osaka and Maazel/BRSO, but I am currently going thru HvK/BPO on Amazon Prime Music streaming service. Nice not to have to buy the actual discs in order to listen. The first Bruckner I ever heard was this record in Cuyahoga County's Public Library and it blew me away.

Image
Horenstein's recording was produced by the founder of CMG, Ward Botsford, who produced an enormous amounr of music for Vox in the 1950s (he credited his engineer who was a terrific tape editor). Ward wasn't a big fan of Bruckner, however.

John

Marc
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by Marc » Sun Feb 05, 2017 12:19 pm

John F wrote:[...] Another positive factor in my early exposure to Bruckner was doubtless the style of the conductor. As van Beinum's Bruckner recordings show, he moved the music along, not luxuriating in slow tempos like Karajan and Jochum; his first movement of the 8th symphony is Beethovenesque in its urgency and dramatic power, and the scherzo really is a scherzo. Seems like nobody listens to those recordings any more or talks about them, but they're on YouTube for those who care to hear. [...]
I listen to them... occasionally. (And I like his Brahms, too.)
It's a pity that Van Beinum died just before the stereo era. The mono recordings of Amsterdam are truly great though.

https://www.amazon.com/Bruckner-Symphon ... B00GKI4TW6

I'm not so sure about your Jochum description. Was he really luxuriating in slow tempi?

John F
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by John F » Sun Feb 05, 2017 12:51 pm

Actually, Jochum's tempos in Bruckner are all over the place, and I never understood what he intended by that.

I thought Van Beinum's recording of the 9th was in stereo, though I bought it in mono; it dates from 1956, so I'm probably wrong. When published on a single Epic LP, the scherzo was split between the sides, but of course that wouldn't be a problem in a CD reissue.
John Francis

Marc
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by Marc » Sun Feb 05, 2017 1:45 pm

John F wrote:Actually, Jochum's tempos in Bruckner are all over the place, and I never understood what he intended by that.

I thought Van Beinum's recording of the 9th was in stereo, though I bought it in mono; it dates from 1956, so I'm probably wrong. When published on a single Epic LP, the scherzo was split between the sides, but of course that wouldn't be a problem in a CD reissue.
Not 100% sure either (and too lazy to check ;)), but I think only no. 5 is in stereo, a March 1959 live broadcast recording.
But the Philips mono recordings sound much better.

Of his Brahms set, nos. 1 & 4 are early Philips Stereo recordings.

THEHORN
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by THEHORN » Fri Feb 10, 2017 2:04 pm

John, I don't think Jochum's tempi are "all over the place", whatever than means . He applied considerable flexibility of tempo in them- something which is actually authentic performance practice ! He was without a doubt, one of the greatest Bruckner conductors ever .

John F
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Re: Bruckner Critics Discussion

Post by John F » Fri Feb 10, 2017 3:49 pm

Jochum's kind of "considerable flexibility of tempo" is for me "all over the place," because they don't make sense to me as Furtwangler's do. As for "authentic Bruckner performance practice," I'm not sure what you mean by that or what its source might be. Many of the earlier recordings on 78s have pretty consistent tempos, as do Bruno Walter's performances and recordings. Others, like Oskar Fried's acoustic recording of the 7th, are more flexible. It's a will o' the wisp.
John Francis

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