Bruckner 8th with National Symphony, Eschenbach

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Bruckner 8th with National Symphony, Eschenbach

Post by diegobueno » Sun Jul 13, 2014 11:22 am

National Symphony, conducted by Christoph Eschenbach. June 14, 2014

Kristen and I went to a fine performance of Bruckner’s mighty 8th Symphony last night [a month ago], performed by the National Symphony with Eschenbach conducting from memory. The orchestra produced a gorgeous, burnished sound even in spite of all the heavily brass-laden orchestration. The horns, especially, were glorious, all eight of them. There were so many horns, in fact, that they spilled out the side to the back of the stage, which gave the last four players space to lay their instruments on the floor while taking up their Wagner tubas. The Wagner tuba looks like a French horn with an enlarged, swollen bell. You get four of them playing close harmony and the effect is this gorgeous mellow, rounded sound. Add a horn solo on top of them, and you’re in Horn Heaven. I became a big fan of Wagner tubas last night.

Beautiful sounding though it was, this was a long performance of a long symphony. Anne Midgette reported a duration of a full 90 minutes at Thursday’s performance and I can’t imagine it went any shorter on Saturday. The slow movement started at such a glacial pace that it almost stood still. Most of the time the tempi were standard, just what one would expect for this work. It’s just the way Eschenbach would stretch the end of the phrase that made it longer, and he did this over and over. The one pick-up note of the first theme was invariably enlongated whenever it appeared, especially if played forte in the low brass. This kind of stretching can really add up. Eschenbach was always ready to snap back into tempo though, and he managed to make the first and third movements cohere quite nicely. The last movement is a problem for any conductor, being constructed from a number of different themes that each demand their own tempo. Eschenbach did a fairly good job of keeping a good continuity, but there are times, and this movement is one of them, where it’s more important to drive the musical narrative forward rather than linger on the details. If you slow the tempo down with every decrescendo you turn the quiet passages which advance the development of the main material into digressions leading nowhere. Fortunately, Eschenbach never let the movement meander the way it does under some batons, but I found myself at several points wishing he’d grab the reins and make his horses charge more steadily.

When a conductor takes a “stop and smell the roses” approach to a really really long symphony, the program doesn’t really need any filler. Nevertheless somebody saw fit to add four Bruckner motets to the beginning of the program, sung a cappella by the University of Maryland Chamber Chorus. This created the need for a need for an intermission and made for a extra long evening. The motets were nice, though

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Re: Bruckner 8th with National Symphony, Eschenbach

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Jul 14, 2014 5:36 am

Thanks for the review. Some of the things you mentioned--glacial pace of the slow movement, unsteady rhythm when forward momentum was needed--are traits which bothered many of us when he was in Philadelphia.

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