Continuing his impressive series of Anton Bruckner's symphonies on CPO, Mario Venzago leads the Bern Symphony Orchestra in period style performances of the Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1889 version) and the Symphony No. 6 in A major (1881 version), using scores edited by Leopold Nowak. Venzago strives for historically informed performances that give varying perspectives on Bruckner's development, employing different orchestras with each release to reveal important differences in the composer's orchestral conceptions and to show that there wasn't one prescription of how the symphonies should sound. Instead, Venzago rejects the massive and heavy-handed interpretations of the early 20th century and tries to re-create the 19th century sound world in all its variety and intimacy. The glistening, vibrato-less string tone, pungent woodwinds, and crisp brass and timpani are easily distinguished from the more homogenized tone colors of a modern symphony orchestra, and Venzago ensures that these distinctive timbres aren't obscured by keeping the orchestral sections lean and discrete.
"He will quickly be forgotten." That was Rimsky-Korsakov's unkind but not inaccurate prediction made shortly after his pupil Anton Arensky's death from tuberculosis at the age of 35. His prediction was unkind in the sense that Arensky's stylish and lyrical works rank with those of Liadov, Kalinnikov, and Ippolitov-Ivanov for melodic charm and orchestral color. But his prediction was accurate to the extent that there have been few performances or recordings of Arensky's music in the century since his death in 1906. Indeed, aside from this undated recording with Evgeny Svetlanov leading the Academic Symphony Orchestra, there has apparently been only one other recording of Arensky's symphonies in the past half century – Valery Polyansky's on Chandos – and none before that at all. For die-hard fans of Russian music, this state of affairs is a shame because as Svetlanov's performances demonstrate, Arensky's symphonies deserve to be heard.
In his final performances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in August 2013, Claudio Abbado conducted Anton Bruckner's unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor, and this recording is drawn from the best takes from those concerts. Considering that this rendition came near the end of Abbado's life and stands as a worthy testament to his achievements, it's easy to read too much into the interpretation, and to view it as a mystical or transcendent reading because of the circumstances. On the one hand, Abbado's understanding of this symphony was as thorough as any conductor's, and the Lucerne musicians played with seriousness and dedication, offering a version that has impressive power and expressive depth. On the other hand, there are many competitive recordings that either match Abbado's for strength and feeling, or surpass it in purely technical terms of sound quality and reproduction. Certainly the sound is exceptional, according to Deutsche Grammophon's high standards, and this stereo recording is exceptionally clean and noise-free.
Although both the Op.9 Chamber Symphony and Five Orchestral Pieces Op.16 broke new ground not only in Schoenberg’s own output but the fast‐developing history of orchestral music around the turn of the 20th century, piano duet arrangements of such works were still regarded as obligatory, as they had been for Brahms.
Since he hated recording, Sergiu Celibidache's Bruckner recordings enjoyed a certain limited critical reputation in the later years of the twentieth century because most of his performances were available only as pirated air checks with awful sound and atrocious surfaces…
Following his CPO recording with the Tapiola Sinfonietta of Anton Bruckner's Symphony in D minor, "Die Nullte," and the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Mario Venzago presents the Symphony No. 2 in C minor, this time with the Northern Sinfonia. Unlike some contemporary conductors who favor the original 1872 version of this symphony, Venzago performs the more familiar 1877 version, edited by William Carragan. This is the first of Bruckner's symphonies where he expanded the form to an hour duration, and the fertile ideas it contains are appropriate to the greater time frame. Yet this work has never been accepted by audiences in the way most of the later symphonies have, such as the Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth, and the music falters over too many starts and stops, indecisive development, and repetitions. Even so, there is much attractive material here, and Venzago brings it off with a light touch, having the orchestra play delicately and sweetly, almost as if this were a Mendelssohn symphony.
"Even though Stefan Blunier's 2011 recording of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor is a lot to digest, timed at over 88 minutes and stretched almost to the breaking point, this is a deeply compelling performance and an impressive recording that deserves all the time listeners devote to it. (…) MDG's natural, unprocessed sound is a great aid to capturing the orchestra's subtle dynamics, and the live recording has very few extraneous sounds. Highly recommended." ~AMG
For his project of recording the complete symphonies of Anton Bruckner on CPO, Mario Venzago has chosen to record each symphony with a different orchestra to re-create the sounds that Bruckner would have heard. Considering that Bruckner's experiences with orchestras spanned three decades, he would have witnessed growth of the orchestra's size and the introduction of new instruments, which clearly influenced his decisions when he composed and revised each work. Venzago performs the Symphony No. 8 in C minor with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, following the 1890 version and employing the same instrumentation and ensemble scale, as well as traditional practices that are documented in performances from that period. The result is an Eighth that sounds strikingly different from the other symphonies, quite far removed from the early Romantic orchestra he used in the First, and considerably expanded from the ensembles he would have expected for the Fourth or even the Seventh symphonies.