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Recordings

Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 8 (rev. version, Nowak ed.)
27 Jun 2007

BRUCKNER: Symphony no. 8 (rev. version, Nowak ed.)

Established in 1985 by the United Nations, the World Philharmonic Orchestra gave its inaugural concert on 12 December 1985 under the auspices of UNICEF and the Konserthus, Sweden.

Anton Bruckner: Symphony no. 8 (rev. version, Nowak ed.)

World Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor.

Euroarts DVD 2051368

$22.99  Click to buy

Released only recently, this DVD captures that performance of World Philharmonic, an orchestra comprised of principal and solo players from all five continents into a single ensemble and led by the late Carlo Maria Giulini. The work chosen for the program suited this assembly of superb professionals, Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony in its revised version and, specifically, following the Nowak edition, and this concert shows Giulini in his prime.

Impossible as it is with this kind of ensemble to ascribe it a specialty, the intricacies of ensemble and interpretation are sufficient to challenge the professional involved with this global group. Yet the focus of the recording truly is Giulini, who brings forward a masterful interpretation of the last symphony that Bruckner saw to completion. The discography of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony includes some fine performances, notably a highly esteemed one with the Vienna Philharmonic led by Karajan. While that latter recording remains an impressive performance, it also represents Karajan’s approach to this works, which is highly dramatic and, as a result, deeply moving. In comparison, Giulini is, perhaps, more passionate than dramatic. In so doing, he draws out the various lines and motifs to shape the musical narrative. He pauses less than some conductors approach Bruckner, and so relies more on connecting the various musical lines than on defining smaller sections of phrase groups. The Scherzo of the Eighth almost requires this kind of approach in order to make sense of the various elements Bruckner introduced into it. While it is overtly a Scherzo, the movement includes gestures that the composer had previously used in some of his slow movements to contribute a level of intensity to some of the transitions. In approaching such aspects of Bruckner’s music, Giulini offers an interpretation that respects the score and simultaneously reflects his personal knowledge of the work.

For an event like the opening concert of the World Philharmonic Orchestra, the choice of Bruckner’s music may not be politically correct by the mores of that exist a generation later, when the idea of world music and native traditions is prominent. As laudable as such later awareness may be, in some situations it emphasizes the differences between cultures. It is also difficult to regard classical music as a lingua franca between global cultures. Yet perhaps the introspective nature of Bruckner’s music is a wise enough choice, especially in this late work by the composer, which is removed from his associations with Wagner or even the more tangible connections with Ländler that may be found in his earlier symphonic canvasses. In such a situation any work is, at best, a compromise. Yet this music has some abstract qualities that allow an international audience to appreciate its introspective character. If the extended applause at the end of this recording can be called into account, it demonstrates the success of the work in this context, masterfully interpreted by Giulini, one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century. The sublime music at the conclusion of the slow movement transcends national and stylistic bounds in its profoundly human pathos that emerges from the pages of this late nineteenth-century score.

This DVD is a fine tribute to the World Philharmonic, which has continued to serve the international community in the two decades since its premiere concert. More information about the World Philharmonic Orchestra exists at its website (accessed 27 June 2007). It would have been useful to have more information about the WPO with this recording, but the introductory essay by Werner Pfister offers a bit more background on its inception and Giulini’s role with this concert. All in all, this recording is of interest as a unique sort of world premiere and fine contribution to Giulini’s discography. The sound is excellent, and the film itself is sensitive to the music, with lingering shots and slower pans fitting this work well. The close-ups of Giulini capture his expressive technique, while the views of the orchestra demonstrate their involvement with the music in this compelling performance of one of Bruckner’s masterpieces.

James L. Zychowicz

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