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Brian Buerkle
American Record Guide, May 2011

In almost every aspect, this is an excellent recording. The radio sound is pristine—full of depth and detail with a warm resonance.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Terry Barfoot
MusicWeb International, February 2011

The relationship between the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Rafael Kubelik (1914–1996) formed a distinguished part of the orchestra’s history and the conductor’s career. He was principal conductor between 1961 and 1979, but worked for the orchestra many times before that. Their recorded legacy is notable for cycles of the Dvoƙák and Mahler symphonies, but their work together in the symphonies of Bruckner was important too, as evidenced by the interesting booklet notes that accompany this issue of a live performance from 1977.

The conductor chose to perform the revision of 1890 which represented Bruckner’s final thoughts, rather than the original version of 1887 as listed on the CD details. While the pedantry of Bruckner enthusiasts is well known around the musical world, it really is sloppy in the extreme to make a major blunder like this for what is an important release. Each alternative needs to be considered on its merits, and surely on this occasion the composer’s second thoughts were better than his first. True, if we only had the first version it would still rank as a masterly score. Moreover there is a danger that any listener will become familiar with one performance of one edition, inviting doubts when another is presented. Even so, for this reviewer at least, Bruckner’s 1890 Eighth is as great a symphony as the repertory contains, whereas the earlier version does not quite maintain the tension, build the sonorities and move the spirit to the same extent. So three cheers that what we have here dates from 1890.

Whereas many recordings of this great symphony take up more than a single CD, including the magnificent new version by Christian Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle (Hänssler Profil PH10031), Kubelik’s faster tempi break the 80-minute barrier. But in a good performance, and this is such, the music should make the listener feel that it could not possibly be otherwise. That said, the recorded market-place for Bruckner symphonies is a crowded one and comparisons are inevitable if decisions need to be made.

The cogency of Kubelik’s view is not in doubt. The music is never cheapened by vulgar exaggerations and the symphonic lines are sensitively and eloquently drawn. The orchestral playing too is exemplary, with each section confirming their international credentials. However, the recording is adequate and no more, sounding as though it dated from the later 1950s rather than the 1970s. The performance is not poorly recorded, but there is a lack of space and atmosphere when compared with more recent versions which serve the composer better, conducted by Thielemann (above), Günter Wand with the Berlin Philharmonic (RCA Red Seal 09026 68839 2) or Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic (DG 427 811 2).

Kubelik’s was a great conductor and his love of Bruckner’s music is articulated throughout. Above all the sensitivity to the ebb and flow of the longest movement (III), Adagio, is a miracle of its kind. He creates an urgency of emotion that matches that of Wand, with the result that the movement’s great climax replete with cymbals makes an overwhelming impression, as the composer intended it should. However, the scherzo is rather less compelling, since the rich sonorities of the brass-writing makes less impact than the score implies. Overall the intensity of feeling that is central to this music is always there, in the first movement and finale particularly. Listen for example to the climax that releases the death-watch coda of the former. The apocalyptic closing bars of the symphony represent a tour de force of intellectual imagination and organisation, magnificently combining the principal themes of all four movements. While Kubelik makes this sound like a true apotheosis, a broader tempo might have ensured greater clarity and weight., December 2010

Bruckner’s last completed symphony, the massive Eighth, presents challenges even beyond those of his earlier ones. Rafael Kubelik and Marek Janowski rise to those challenges in somewhat different ways—although, interestingly, their readings differ in total length by only a minute and a half. Kubelik’s (++++) performance is yet another live recording, appearing in the BR Klassik “Archive” series: it dates to May 1977, at which time Kubelik had been the Bavarian Symphony’s Music Director for 16 years and had turned the orchestra into one of the world’s most polished. Both Kubelik and Janowski conduct the 1890 version of the Eighth, although the Kubelik CD misidentifies the version as that of 1887 (that first version is rarely performed: the Georg Tintner recording for Naxos belongs in every Bruckner lover’s collection). There is also a third version of this symphony, prepared by Robert Haas in 1939 and incorporating elements of both earlier ones. All three forms of this work have elements to recommend them, but on balance, the one that Kubelik and Janowski use is the most satisfactory. Certainly it is wonderful as Kubelik directs it. This conductor had such amazing rapport with this orchestra that there seems to be near-intuitive understanding of everything Kubelik wants his players to do. The result is that transitions within movements flow gorgeously, without any of the awkwardness that can turn a Bruckner structure into something episodic. Kubelik’s recording sounds weighty, but not heavy: there is great clarity in individual lines, with the result that (for example) the bleak and quiet ending of the first movement, on low strings and low winds, pulls a listener inexorably downward (Bruckner created this soft conclusion for the 1890 version, and it is the only quiet ending of a first movement in any of his symphonies). Kubelik gives a sense that everything in the symphony is there from a kind of inevitability, making the work a whole more than equal to the sum of its parts, but whose parts fit together exactly as they should. Kubelik’s Bavarian Radio Symphony of 1977 is not, player for player, identical to the one Haitink conducts in 2010, but the way the orchestra continues to excel in Bruckner over decades show just how deeply permeated by the composer’s spirit it seems to be.

John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune, December 2010

This live account of Bruckner’s greatest symphonic monument, from May 1977, is an eloquent tribute to the art of a beloved former Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director.

David Hurwitz, December 2010

Rafael Kubelik’s recording has some wonderful things, in particular a flexibility of pulse in the Adagio that creates real urgency without ever pushing the tempo too hard. There are some moments where the ensemble turns a touch shaky. The scherzo falls flat and the horns don’t ring out as they should, and Kubelik rushes the coda of the finale. But what really makes this performance special is the raw anger that Kubelik brings to the first movement and to the minor-key climaxes in the finale. He lets the trumpets scream and the trombones growl, and all of this is very different from the fat, blended sonority favored by conductors apt to forget that, “spiritual” as this music is, it’s also about human emotion. So for that reason, this performance is worth hearing. The sonics are acceptable for their 1977 live provenance: a touch compressed, but otherwise fine.

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