Anton Bruckner: Symphony n° 9 in D minor, WAB 109 (Edition Nowak)
Wiener Philharmoniker, Christian Thielemann (conductor)
Recording: Salzburg Festival, Salzburg, Austria (Summer 2022) – 57’22
Sony Classical G010004794121V
This Bruckner Ninth is happily unhindered by the whiff of undue restraint that has haunted much of Christian Thielemann’s otherwise impressive ongoing Bruckner cycle, not to mention his work throughout the symphonic repertoire. It seems the German maestro has gained a new feel for dramatic tension; his Bruckner Eighth on tour in New York last weekend, also with the Vienna Philharmonic, brought the most impressive conducting I have yet to hear from him, whether in concert or on record, with a welcome dose of propulsion and, dare one say, inner life added to the usual patience and poise.
The Sony Bruckner series has found the Vienna orchestra consistently lush, but this Ninth is the first installment in which, to my ears, Thielemann really lets his players off the leash. The massed brass is overwhelming at fortissimo, for once—really the whole orchestra is—yet with no harshness of tone. We are very near the Karajan territory of a highly controlled intensity bespeaking an ultimate inward calm. If, in the lyrical passages, Bruckner gives to the strings in the first movement, Thielemann tends to be wistful where Karajan was wrenching, at least the former is always musical and alert. And the performance grows in expressive power, culminating in an Adagio that is anguished where it needs to be and poignant (as in the coda) where it needs to be.
The various completions of the fragmentary fourth movement have gained enough currency that Thielemann felt obliged to defend his decision to conclude with the Adagio, claiming it enhances the work’s appeal. I’m not so sure. The three completed movements are the closest Bruckner came to Mahlerian anguish, and to an audience steeped in Mahler, the absence of what seems to me a necessary Brucknerian triumphant resolution is easy enough to overlook. However well one thinks any of the realized fourth movements works, and I am not quite sure myself, they give a priceless glimpse into Bruckner’s own vision for this symphony dedicated to “the beloved God”, a light bright enough (yet gentle) to dispel the deepest darkness, and I for one find the inevitable rough edges a fair trade for this more palpable completeness. But the performance at hand at least manages to bring the third movement to a deeply moving close, and it is a tribute to its overall excellence that I so keenly regret the exclusion of a fourth.