Recorded at a concert during the Salzburg Festival of 2014, Christoph von Dohnányi inspires the Philharmonia Orchestra to a performance of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony that is at once rigorous and thought-through and also dynamic, flexible and loaded with deeply-felt sentiment, a visionary if unfinished musical journey for the composer.
Avoiding sentimentality if not emotional burden, Dohnányi ensures that the first movement is kept on track, but not ruthlessly, for there is phrasal leeway, the music’s overall trajectory, and the adventurous new harmonies (for this composer), confidently set forth while allowing a sense of trepidation – an entering into the unknown. The big central climax blazes and there is a sense of numbness in its wake.
Following this coherent yet supple first movement in which pathos and striving are fused, the Scherzo has plenty of momentum and strength if not quite the jagged force it can have (a comment rather than a criticism). The macabre Trio is ideally nifty, played with agility. As for the third (final) movement, an Adagio, once again Dohnányi confides its course and if he sometimes colours the music in a way that suggests it as death-haunted, and painful in the ultimate climax, there is also a real impression of transcendence, however fearful. Musically, Dohnányi doesn’t linger over the concluding bars; after all, Bruckner planned and sketched a big Finale.
This is an account of extraordinary music that is illuminating, thrilling and affecting. The recorded sound, without disguising the Festspielhaus’s generous reverberation, being vivid and detailed, the (left-positioned) double basses unerringly captured as an imposing foundation.
At the beginning of a New Year, this Symphony as Bruckner left it – in progress – has proved to be an ideal portal to whatever comes next (in Bruckner’s case I hope he got to meet his beloved Maker). Although Bruckner’s modern-day disciples have now completed the Finale (see review-link to Simon Rattle’s recording) there remains a curious fulfilment to the three movements that Bruckner bequeathed us. Certainly Dohnányi’s consideration of the music is wholesome and wise – compelling in fact – and is played with commitment and devotion. The last few measures are lullaby-like and rock the listener to silence, to which applause is not allowed to intrude.