The mono recording was digitally remastered for this 2006 release, and offers a finely detailed sound that conveys well the memorable performance that allowed it to be part of this impressive series. Derived, Gottfried Kraus mentioned in the liner notes, from the original tapes in the archive of Austrian Radio, this is a legendary performance that represents both the level of music making at the Salzburg Festival and the impressive leadership Knappertsbusch gave at the podium.
While some hall noises emerge infrequently in the recording, the sound is almost devoid of interruptions that would mar the intensity of the performance. The recording shows the Vienna Philharmonic’s precision and evenness of tone. The strings are nicely balanced, with fine ensemble; the brass and winds match the sound without overpowering it, and while that may be assisted by the placement of the microphones, their sound is clean and incisive and, in general, always controlled. This mature work of Bruckner is known to audiences and familiar to performers, yet effective performances like this benefit from the sensitive ensemble a professional orchestra like the Vienna Philharmonic offer.
Knappertsbusch seems to have had the rapport with the Vienna Philharmonic that allowed this work to emerge in an almost perfect rendering of Bruckner’s score. The initial tempos for each movement are appropriate, and in following the tempo markings, nothing is ever out of place. Nuances of tempo and pacing shape the performance, in the way that practiced singers can color their tone with vibrato. The effects of tempo shifts and tempo modulations support the music well.
At times the fullness of the sound creates an intensity that would be rendered better by the stereophonic approach to recording. It conveys, too, the hall in Salzburg, which is also part of the legacy represented by this recording. The intensity of the first two movements is matched by the spirited treatment of the Scherzo in the third, thus, with the weight of the Symphony pitched toward the first half of the work. The sometimes lighter style of playing in the Scherzo accentuates the otherwise intensive sounds the Knappertsbusch elicited earlier in the work. With the Scherzo, Knappertsbusch captures some elements that sound, in his hands, as playful as some of the lighter movements found in Dvorak’s symphonies. With the Finale, though, the fragmentary ideas with which the movement opens also represent a contrast to the opening movement of the Seventh Symphony, and in rendering it this manner, Knappertsbusch serves Bruckner’s score well. The lyrical elements of this movement emerge almost effortlessly, and thus become a foil for the more intensive motives and thematic groups that characterize the concluding sections of the Finale. Staged in this way, the Finale is as impressive as the opening movement, with an impassioned intensity that makes this performance as memorable as the enthusiastic applause found at the end of the recording.
This release of Bruckner’s Seventh from over half a century ago is a fine addition to the series of Festspiel Dokumente, and it preserves one of the outstanding performances from the Salzburg Festival from the years just after World War II. The fine sound quality gives the impression of a studio recording, and the overall ambiance creates a strong impression. Most of all Knappertsbusch’s interpretation stands out for its clear and effective presentation of Bruckner’s score.
James L. Zychowicz