The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

MDR Figaro - Save The Children Sendai Benefit: Leipzig Gewandhaus, Riccardo Chailly in harrowing Bruckner Eighth (ed. Nowak). 06.05.11

Recalling time Riccardo Chailly started recording Anton Bruckner’s symphonies, ingredients for making of a fine Bruckner interpreter were likely present, but vague to discern. On half of the mature symphonies, little better than tentative came to fruition - the later recorded Sixth, Eighth, and Ninth exceptions. The Seventh Chailly, hardly older than thirty, recorded with RSO Berlin now cries out for him to return to it in Leipzig soon. His take on Bruckner, already modernist, was one to immediately emphasize clean lines, but easy to find fragmented, confused sounding with verticality of Bruckner’s sonorities, emphasis on projecting tone, including with lush quality of the string writing - all cutting in at various angles. Hieratic aspects of Bruckner’s music, with hardly well focused alternative to replace them, got understated.

Chailly’s Decca Bruckner cycle, recorded in Berlin and then Amsterdam, came to a conclusion with the Eighth – good qualified success with it - fourteen years after recording the Seventh. Now twelve more years have passed. After fifteen years in Amsterdam, first ten years of which seemed to reflect some unease, situation in Leipzig with Chailly there these past five years seemed to hit the ground running from the outset. Leipzig’s strings have a little darker patina and fibrous edge to their sound than their Dutch counterparts - woodwinds darker color as well. Chailly has infused Leipzig’s playing with a deep smoldering fire that surges through them all.

Chailly and the Gewandhaus toured four Asian cities last March - Seoul, Hong Kong, and several days before the terrible northern Japan earthquake Tokyo with an all-Dvorak program and the Bruckner Eighth Symphony each. This performance happened as a benefit for Save the Children – regarding the many young victims of this catastrophe. Not only on humanitarian terms, but also on musical and aesthetic ones, this performance of the Eighth reflected selfless commitment by Chailly and all involved, most memorably to Anton Bruckner’s music.

In aspiring to grasp nobler, loftier heights in scaling the architectonics of the Eighth in Amsterdam, Chailly adopted an almost quasi-Brahmsian approach to slurring lines somewhat heavily over ends of phrases, employing allargando, other device to make space for doing so. Such (mild) affectation has mostly vanished now. The Ninth Symphony, as an aside, addresses new conflict, but without the ability to sustain the titanic conflict that at different junctures during the Eighth makes it so gripping. Chailly however with this Eighth, and with fine discipline not to sentimentalize the argument, took pains to place some of all this back, deciding upon an Eighth in which the music can most straightforwardly speak for itself.

Romantic conceits of making the Eighth metaphorically of either Promethean or transcendent Faustian proportions rested content to just be suggested here. The drama of Bruckner’s inspiration overall stepped aside from overtly taking on metaphysical proportions, but also not succumbing to any ‘period’ practice musicological conceit.

Chailly picked a comparably moderate pace for first movement to what he had before, but here inexorable forward motion beneath unimpeded by slightly belabored feigning of making overall reaching line connect. Fragmented character of the opening subject received more definite shape, less luftpausen, attenuation to make things slur over more than necessary. Confidence in both line and its components at last sounded assured. More expansive second theme still sounded mildly underlined, phlegmatic here, but enhanced by solid firmness underneath – still better separations within line observed once recapitulated. Forthright consequents in the brass were firm - retreating transition through woodwinds flowing, supple, through more classically arched, steady, trudging forward third theme group.

All continued taut underneath while supple through strings and winds spinning out inversions of first two theme groups. Anticipated arrival of the recapitulation, thoroughly prepared, sounded forth, gradual its buildup to a purposefully qualified climax full and compact. In 1999, Chailly, toward keeping all moving, rushed the quiet principal flute descant over unaccompanied trumpets’ ‘Annunciation.’ Toward maximum cumulative effect, all was steady this time - in mind too of expansively handled Adagio to come.

Expanded out transition to second group - by not over-blowing apex achieved right before - over single pitch continuing ‘annunciation’ trumpets made eloquent heavily descending unison strings intimating first subject as backed by Chailly’s from outset mildly classicizing conception of this music – still open to capturing this music's impetus to transcends formal restraints. Propulsion through third theme group toward ringing climax – full arrival at last of ‘Annunciation’ was infused with febrile sense of mystery. Picked up first theme group fragments Chailly gathered shape for from underneath in their mimicking the scaling of earlier achieved fine proportions.

Chailly, in 1890 scoring less elaborate than 1887 (original version), brought out the folk element in the Deutscher Michel’ rotating idea dominating the Scherzo here. Playing too was less thick from Leipzig strings than previously from Amsterdam, for shimmer of different colors and light to freely emerge through rustle mid-to-back to fill panorama still remaining full of much empty space. Chailly had his strings in Leipzig purposefully rise and fall, contract and diffuse in context of what was in front of them with fine simplicity, certainty and ease. Mystery capturing all this, while keeping prominent a never over-emphasized indigenous element, was complete.

Strings, deftly began Trio section, deferring to extended horn obbligato, then placing themselves more forward vis-à-vis clarinet, toward building, supported by brass, opulent cadential phrases, limned febrile thereof by harps. Intimation of great weariness infused brief re-transition, Chailly waiting until higher reaching cadential lines to employ underlining.

At considerably slow pace Chailly took the Adagio, there still remaining intimated sense of pull forward through its peaceful opening – palpably conveyed also here a sense of spiritual fatigue. Contentment with suggesting grandiosity for long ascending lines off heavy doubled third in the bass - as opposed to bloating them - was very apt toward preserving legato. Less absorption remarkably in what sonorities get built up through such opening revealed more thorough grasp of what gets confronted here.

Reprise of big ascending consequent Chailly then provided firmer shape. He made intentionally gradual grand arch to line in the cellos as second theme proceeded, from having started it, conventionally shaped, at a slightly accelerated pace. Reply from Wagner tubas toward cellos making part of the climb a third time warmly, succinctly framed the cellos doing so. Chailly very tellingly hesitantly shaped light transition to full reprise of the first theme - for winds reaching high for cadence, providing harmonically therein glimpse of light further opening out would later provide. Subtle detachment of ascending brass attempting to wrest themselves free of growing anguish in building stretto in strings above informed next full reprise of the first theme. Simplicity prudently informed next second theme reprise, limned well by fine concertmaster solo therein. All following striving then turned febrile, toward exposed violins making poetic lift - prefigured by winds - over which Chailly made beautifully sustained allargando.

Eschewing making harmonic change from very dark, fortissimo brass enunciation of first theme in B-Flat Minor to large A-Flat chord (slight awkwardness of Bruckner’s revision - Nowak edition here) from sounding climactic, Chailly slowly continued inexorably accumulating musical and dramatic tension – goal clearly perceptible here numerous paragraphs before – to stoically a noble climax. The risk-taking, interesting from Barenboim in Berlin last year, seldom otherwise, of imposing big accelerandi toward making it was not for Chailly – helping this Adagio, two and a half minutes longer than in Amsterdam, make it out to twenty-eight minutes - without becoming too slow or losing grasp of simplicity.

Strings on following harp-accompanied consequent eloquently eschewed fleshing out deeply constructed chordal progressions, making then all sound febrile on top. Subtlety Chailly might not have managed well much earlier, he included a hair-pin accelerando within starting final brass enunciations of first theme, pulling back from doing so right away, giving the conclusion of this Adagio full sense of repose and hinted, subtle impetus toward pressing forward at once - recalling DGG Berlin recording for how Karajan overshot the mark here. This was all true - vast empty space all about - achieved by taking this Adagio conscientiously slow. Very quiet break - almost ninety seconds - before the finale could begin was rapt.

The finale, only slightly slower than in Amsterdam, gained here finer nobility, resolve thereby. Contrast with urgency infusing starting idea in brass and chorale like well voiced second theme, was telling. Broad reach as slightly from behind in making transition to overtly breezily propelling forward third theme group paid fine dividends – brass consistently dark well beneath the strings. Fortissimo pressing forward on snatch of third theme, still plenty loud, eschewed making empty bombast thereof in favor of bringing out the strength of the trumpets’ motif, all toward readying poised Exposition closing lines. Hesitant false starts in strings with which Bruckner opens what follows Chailly provided fine shape, especially through replying brass.

Stoically insistent strings’ marking of brass sequence of descending consequents reminded of Klemperer’s manner of conducting such a passage. Febrile anxiety expressed by strings, followed by flexibly slackening of musical tension, excellently informed making re-transition off nodal sequencing preceding it. Ascending string tremoli spinning off firmly urgent restatement of first theme in full turned risky, in awaiting brass to lend all profile - better yet something achieved from observing all from very wide perspective.

Second theme sounded fuller than as encountered earlier. Third theme group pressed breezily its trudge forward, preparing first movement main theme arrival in C Minor well - rhetorical terracing of dynamics in the strings through their extended lines very fine. Chailly then began (arguably remainder of) the coda spaciously, brass deep in lament at outset, dotted rhythms then strongly marked – with at last second, press forward into final, stoically firm achievement of C Major, blazing forth unto measured proclamation of final four descending unison line to close all out, with it uncertain how, other than sternly, fulfilling a conclusion has at last arrived. Others, profoundly 1944 Furtwangler (Vienna PO), have found greater serenity in this finale; stoical perspective however though should be found equally valid.

This turned out Chailly’s most significant Bruckner to have easily run across thus far. It proved never lacking in philosophical import, with very well spaced sonorities common, abetted by broad shape to much of this – first movement alone in at slightly less time than in Amsterdam. Chailly’s vision of Bruckner here, making it to such complete fruition, crossed Gewandhaus footlights very compellingly.

Much spacious pacing vaguely recalled Sinopoli in Dresden (DGG); mostly some of its grayer modernist, despairing perspective got replicated here. Chailly lowered previous Romantic conceits by nakedly revealing with beautiful simplicity what vastness all about. It would be good to release this with perhaps for extended time Save The Children receiving proceeds toward relieving continuing great suffering in northern Japan – some expressive parameters of this Bruckner Eighth perhaps more acutely informed than usual by harrowing imagery of indeed a great tragedy - all very affecting, disquieting.

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