Anton Bruckner - The Symphonies

I have heard Bruckner's symphonies so often in my life that I know them almost too well. Only with suitable equipment would I hear them again, I told myself and waited. In any event, the equipment I had used during the last couple years just wasn't up to such a grandiose task. Then, after some time, when I finally got the right loudspeakers and the big moment came, it was the records that did not hold up. But, I got lucky and found this series of recordings which allowed me to discover Bruckner all over again:

By Thü, March 2018


Anton Bruckner
Symphony No. 8 in C minor

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra Tokyo
96kHz/24bit FLAC download
Denon

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If there ever was a record that took me by surprise, it was this one. Of course, I hoped it would sound better than the Solti/Chicago recording I already owned, but the difference was overwhelming. I was instantly hooked, despite the fact that I knew every intonation that was to come because this sound is so transparent and intense. Also, Stan's Interpretation of the expressions and tempi are magnificent in my opinion and the dynamics go to the extreme and then some. It seemed I could hear Stan humming, this may be a bit irritating but happens only occasionally. The orchestra itself generally plays very precisely, however, there may have been a few fuzzy cues from a horn or violin if you are really on the lookout, but in all honesty, probably that also happens to the most famous of orchestras and we just can't hear it on a bad recording. But apart from those little details, this is the first recording of the 8th I have found that is capable of presenting detailed instruments even during the heavy fortissimo parts. For example, when Stan leads the orchestra into the extreme fortissimo at the beginning of the fourth movement, it is not an explosion into a noisy loud rumble like so many other recordings are, but instead it is a firework of details that seems to have no dynamic boundaries – the orchestra goes to maximum volume, you think, and suddenly it goes even further while the sound does not lose any of its transparency. Finally, only the applause at the end suggests this is a live concert recording. I would not have thought that. Denon has a long history of highly praised recordings, but I have not received details for these because the download from HDtracks includes only a simple cover image. But it does seem that Toshiyasu Shiozawa is the recording engineer for this series and he really did a great job. Too bad they only recorded the 0th, 7th, 8th and 9th of the Bruckner Symphonies.

I have never been so sure about the superiority of a record. After I heard the Denon Skrowaczewski recording, there was really nothing left to wish for.

The records from the same series are equally good:

Special mention
The Schoenberg Society once presented large orchestral works as chamber music adaptions for small private audiences as a kind of protest against the great commercialization of art. This inspired the Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble to do their own chamber orchestra adaption by Anthony Payne of Bruckner's 2nd Symphony. You won't hear the typical mighty, brassy Bruckner sound here, but fine, delicate solo instruments with all their own dynamic nevertheless and of course a pristine high-res recording. This is also like hearing a Bruckner Symphony for the first time all over again. And it is not completely alien for Bruckner as he also wrote chamber music himself like the String Quintet in F major or the Quartet in C minor. The only critique I have about this record is the tempi, which, in my opinion, are too static.



Bruckner
Symphony No. 2

Trevor Pinnock
Royal Academy of Music Soloists Ensemble
192kHz/24bit FLAC download
Linn Records

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The other Bruckner Symphonies
Now, as for some of the other Symphonies, for which, unfortunately, no recording of Skrowaczewski was made by Denon, making a choice is not that easy because to me nothing else seems to achieve such a high level of sound quality. The closest ones are the 3th and 5th, also conducted by Skrowaczewski, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on their own label LPO, their sound is evenly precise and close and stays so even during the crescendos. The Pentatone recording of Bruckners 1th by Gustavo Gimeno is quiet good in detail and precision, but it lacks a bit in microphone positioning. The rooms reverb is very present especially with the instruments of the rear positions. Consequently, winds and percussion are too far away and don't have the same rich sound detail the strings have. The 3th and 4th symphony by Andris Nelsons with the Gewandhausorchester are also nice recordings but they loose detail the more instruments play simultaneously, the sound becomes unclean and mushy, which bothers me more then the reverb on Pentatone's recording of the 1th. I am still searching for perfect records of the 1th, 2th (full orchestra), 4th and 6th symphonies.



Bruckner
Symphony No. 3

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
London Philharmonic Orchestra
44,1kHz/24bit FLAC download
LPO

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Bruckner
Symphony No. 5

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
London Philharmonic Orchestra
96kHz/24bit FLAC download
LPO

Buy from HDtracks

Other records of Bruckner symphonies I compared that did not have good enough sound quality:
(let me repeat again, it's not about the interpretation, just sound recording quality.)

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Mel Bernay
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Jul 2018
Mel Bernay says...

Certainly one of the greatest Bruckner 8th's on record. And the live performance adds a measure of frisson and over the top excitement especially in the final two movements. Recorded in the same hall in Tokyo,known for its acoustic excellence, as were the Eighths by Celibidache and Wand. Between Wand, Haitink (VPO), Karajan (VPO) and Skrowaczewski, an embarrasment of riches. These maestros are most definitely in the pantheon of great interpreters.

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Thü
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May 2018
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Thü says...

Interesting to know. It is a shame there is so few information available. The downloads only contain a cover image. I tried several times contacting the label (Nippon Columbia Japan) without success, to get permission for sound samples and maybe getting more background informations.

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John L. Cooper
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Jun 2018
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John L. Cooper says...

I only ever knew the Simon Rattle records of Bruckner. I will get me those recommended ones and report back.

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John L. Cooper
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Jun 2018
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John L. Cooper says...

I bet a magazine will exaggerate and did not expect much of a difference but I was wrong, it is much better sounding then my old records. Astounding indeed.

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