Ideally, a performance of Anton Bruckner’s (1824-1896)
“Symphony No. 8 in C Minor” should be akin to a spiritual
journey during which the listener is transported to the most lofty
heights imaginable. That has always been my experience
when this work has been performed properly. However,
such a performance requires a conductor with the abilities
to shape and build long stretches of music while simultaneously
gauging the high points accordingly, and with an eye on the
ultimate climax within each movement. In turn, these
movements should be placed within the proper context
of the work as a whole. In the case of the “Eighth,” the
coda of the last movement utilizes themes from all four
movements in a grand peroration that should end this work
of 80-plus minutes in a blaze of glory.
By and large, when he conducted the World Philharmonic
Orchestra’s inaugural concert of this work for UNICEF,
Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini (1914-2005) achieved the
aforementioned requirements. This performance was
taped in Stockholm before a live audience on
December 8, 1985, and is available on DVD. The World
Philharmonic Orchestra was formed with the aim of bringing
together musicians from all five continents, so the title
is an apt one. When the native countries of the musicians
were listed at the end of the performance, it seemed as
though there were practically as many countries as there
were musicians in the orchestra; hence, it truly WAS a world
orchestra! The fees of the musicians were donated to UNICEF.
Maestro Giulini used the Leopold Nowak edition of this 1890
version of the symphony. This was interesting for me, since
I’d long been most familiar with the Robert Haas edition.
Leopold Nowak (1904-1991) succeeded Robert Haas
(1886-1960) as the General Editor of the International
Bruckner Society after World War II. Due to his Nazi affiliations,
Haas had been ousted from his position. The main reason
for the formation of the Bruckner Society in Leipzig during
the 1920’s was to help “make sense” of the many different
versions of Bruckner’s Symphonies. Along with Bruckner’s
“Third” and “Fourth” symphonies, the “Eighth” has a
particularly “thorny” history, and anyone interested in
researching these issues should check out the 1992
edition of Robert Simpson’s (1921-1997) excellent book,
The Essence of Bruckner. Simpson was not only a noted
composer in his own right; he was also a BBC broadcaster
and an outstanding writer on music.
At any rate, Giulini conducted a deeply felt rendition here.
Although perhaps not the last word in excellence, his orchestra
gave a fine performance. I’ve heard other renditions, in
which parts of the last two movements (the longest) were
more impressive, but in general, I was quite satisfied.
I thought that the first two movements were particularly fine.
Unlike many performances of works such as this, there
was no doubling of players in the woodwind and brass
sections of the orchestra.
Nevertheless, I do wish that the harps were shown during
their performances in the two middle movements. Their
involvement is of note in this symphony, because Bruckner
never used them in any of his other symphonies. In my
opinion, the lack of film footage of them is a major faux pas
by the camera crew. The camera work in general was
somewhat typical of the techniques used during the 1980’s,
and the transfer from videotape to DVD wasn’t the clearest.
These issues aside, this performance on the Euroarts label was
a fine one, and worth the time of any “Brucknerian.” It
was released during 2006.