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Mark J. Estren
The Washington Post, February 2011

Burnished brass and a nuanced understanding of the massive architecture of Bruckner’s symphonies provided the underpinnings of Lorin Maazel’s Bruckner cycle in Munich from January through March 1999. The subtle intricacies of Maazel’s distinguished readings are fully captured in the live recordings of those performances, now available as a boxed set.

The ever-present Bruckner issue involves what Bruckner to play, which symphonies to count as among his “complete” set and which edition of each symphony to use. Maazel chose to include 10 symphonies, all in editions by musicologist Leopold Nowak (1904-1991). Nowak was the symphonies’ best editor, but Maazel’s choice is arguably the right one. (For one thing, there are 11 Bruckner symphonies, including an early “school symphony” sometimes given the number “00.” Maazel omits that, but includes the one given the number “0,” identifying it, however, as the “annulled second.” This is chronologically correct—it was written in 1869, a year after No. 1 was completed—though numerologically confusing.)

The versions of symphonies chosen by Maazel are pretty much standard nowadays. For example, he uses the 1890 edition of the No. 8 rather than the largely discredited 1939 pastiche by Robert Haas that some conductors, such as Christian Thielemann, continue to favor. And most of Maazel’s readings simply glow. He has a fine sense of structure and style, and understands better than many other conductors how to differentiate each Bruckner symphony from the others, even though all occupy a similar sonic environment because of the composer’s unique handling of orchestration and thematic groups.

In some of the earlier symphonies, Maazel’s instinct for monumentality is a trifle overdone: The first movements of Nos. “0” and 1 plod a bit, and the Schubertian freshness of No. 2 never really blooms. But the later symphonies are uniformly excellent. Nos. 7 and 8 shine most brilliantly of all, feeling—despite their considerable lengths—like extended, unified tone poems of sound and emotion, with soft passages as significant as fortissimo ones and as beautifully played. Indeed, the orchestra is superlative throughout—warm, wonderfully blended and thoroughly idiomatic.

Maazel breaks no new interpretative ground in these performances, but his finely honed approach polishes Bruckner to such a brilliant sheen that this set would be a worthy cornerstone for many listeners’ Bruckner collections., February 2011

When it comes to Bruckner, those seeking authentic performances have a different sort of problem from that relating to Brahms. The ever-present Bruckner issue involves which Bruckner to play—which symphonies to count as among his “complete” set, and which specific edition of each symphony to use. There are many, many answers to these questions, all of them sure to spur lively debate among conductors and other musicians: the Bruckner oeuvre is nothing if not complicated. For his 1999 Bruckner cycle with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Lorin Maazel chose to include 10 symphonies, all in editions by musicologist Leopold Nowak (1904–1991). Nowak was the symphonies’ best editor, but Maazel’s choice is not inarguably the right one. For one thing, there are 11 Bruckner symphonies, including an early “school symphony” sometimes given the number “00.” Maazel omits that, but includes the one given the number “0,” identifying it, however, as the “annulled second,” which is chronologically correct (it was written in 1869, a year after No. 1 was completed) but numerologically confusing. The specific versions of symphonies chosen by Maazel are pretty much standard nowadays, and most listeners who know Bruckner will have heard them before. But that makes this set of live recordings less intriguing than, for example, the wonderful Georg Tintner cycle, released a decade ago by Naxos, not long after the conductor died in 1999. That set, which also had 11 CDs, managed to include on them all 11 symphonies plus a series of alternative movements, such as the often-discussed but very rarely played Volksfest finale to No. 4. Although the playing in the Tintner set, which used three different orchestras, was nowhere near as polished and idiomatic as that in Maazel’s, the set itself provided endless fascination through Tintner’s willingness to present nonstandard versions of several symphonies—notably the first (1887) version of No. 8. Maazel’s cycle is, by comparison, quite conventional. On the other hand, that is not a bad thing when the music glows as it does here. Maazel has a fine sense of structure and style, and understands better than many conductors how to differentiate each Bruckner symphony from the others, even though all occupy a similar sonic environment because of the composer’s unique handling of orchestration and thematic groups. The Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks has particularly strong brass, and Maazel pushes the brass players to the limit again and again, with burnished and thrilling results. The musicians clearly have a level of comfort with Bruckner’s music that few other orchestras can match, and Maazel relies on that as he shapes rhythmic subtleties (focusing on one section of the orchestra) while relying on the rest of the musicians to carry on in the same spirit (as they do—this is especially evident in Nos. 4 and 5). Maazel demands, and gets, a very wide dynamic range from these players—soft sections of No. 7 are just gorgeous—and he maintains a firm grasp of Buckner’s architecture while allowing the music to breathe and expand in grand and glorious aural waves. This is a set to cherish for the wonderful sound of the orchestra and the excellent control shown by Maazel in the service of what is clearly a well-thought-out vision of these 10 symphonies. Unlike Tintner’s, Maazel’s is not an innovative or revelatory cycle, but it is a firm-handed, fine-sounding and gorgeously played one—worthy to be the cornerstone of many listeners’ Bruckner collections.

Gramophone, February 2011

BRUCKNER, A.: Symphonies Nos. 0-9 (Bavarian Radio Symphony, Maazel) 900711
BRUCKNER, A.: Symphony No. 5 (Bavarian Radio Symphony, Haitink) 900109

Of all the senior maestros treading the current concert circuit, Lorin Maazel is surely among the most unpredictable and his 1999 series of live performances with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (based on Nowak editions) has in some respects confounded my expectations. What were those expectations? In the main, a keen ear for detail, excellent execution and moments of visceral excitement, a warm projection of Bruckner’s melodic lines and an understanding of the music’s structure—in other words an intelligent, comprehensive hold on what the music is about without necessarily plumbing its depths or courting dangerous extremes. Well, I was wrong about the depths and the danger; all the other plus-points remain much as I expected them to be.

Over the years Maazel’s approach to Bruckner has broadened considerably. This 1999 version of the Third has the advantage of bold and sonorous Bavarian brass and, in the Adagio, some extremely beautiful string playing. The 1889 Nowak score is used, which makes for a more concise finale. Maazel’s approach to that finale is among the performance’s high-points, with a lilting account of the polka-style second subject and especially strong advocacy of the ingenious episode soon afterwards where echoing strings and brass conjure the acoustic of some vast cathedral.

Mention of cathedral helps identify precisely where Maazel challenges those dusty old preconceptions, namely, and in spite of some very slow tempi, by taking Bruckner out of his churchly comfort zone and treating his symphonies much as he might the symphonies of Tchaikovsky, Schumann, Brahms, even at times Mahler. This trend is especially noticeable in the early works. The busily discursive First Symphony is presented in the ‘Linz’ edition and enjoys a cracking performance of the Scherzo, “No 0” is even more impressive the doggedly slow opening, like a grim march, lends the music a slightly sinister edge and I’ve never heard a more daringly broad account of the lovely Trio.

Maazel’s Bruckner Second is considerably slower than most of his rivals but again the playing carries real conviction, at the start of the finale, for example, which opens delicately but climaxes with considerable power. Then there’s the yearning motif that opens the symphony, and the trumpet that cuts across it, the effect here unusually sombre. Maazel seems to have taken enormous care in his preparation of each work, focusing its singular character as a starting-point: his approach to the Fourth recalling something of Karajan’s grandeur, something of Jochum’s volatility, but the Scherzo, although boldly played by the horns, is a little sedate.

In the Fifth Maazel faces newly released competition from another BR-Klassik release, a concert recording from last February where the conductor was Bernard Haitink…it’s interesting to note that, according to the Bruckner discography at for a concert three days earlier his overall tempo had been 78′24″ as opposed to the more “regular” total timing of 75′43″ offered here. Comparing Haitink with the broader Maazel is instructive in more ways than one, mostly concerning the balance between the middle and the outer movements, where under Maazel the main body of the music is hardly allegro, and the adagio element of the second seems dictated more by a long, flowing line than by the specific tempo chosen for the pizzicato strings, which is relatively fast. The relation between the movements under Maazel is 23′09″ next to 15′09″, whereas with Haitink whose beautifully balanced approach is fairly characteristic of his Bruckner style overall, you have 20′31″ against 16′07″. There’s a parallel—if less extreme—comparison between the two versions of the Scherzo and the finale.

Haitink allows the music to unfold, as if its architecture were a given and his job merely to clear away the mists of time. Maazel’s is a more overtly characterful approach, most notably at the centre of the first movement, the statement of the principal theme at around 12′15″, where he employs a massive, swaying gait. Haitink (at 12′15″) is less extreme. Both conductors gauge the finale well, Haitink as always with a sure view of the whole terrain, while Maazel is freer tempo-wise and favours a more dramatic manner with dynamics. If you already have one or other of Haitink’s available Fifths, I wouldn’t necessarily advise swapping them for this one, though if you haven’t the magnificent playing of the BRSO and BR-Klassik’s superb recording might tempt you to add what is in effect a major Bruckner interpretation to your collection.

Maazel’s Sixth opens rather impatiently but once into its stride settles to a persuasive reading that generates both power and poetry. The Adagio is virtually Tchaikovskian in its feeling of impassioned elegy (try from 737″), whereas the start of the Scherzo highlights one of the qualities I most enjoy about Maazel’s Bruckner, namely an appreciation of Bruckner’s musical patterns, in this case (and helped by some very pointed playing) the way the rising motif that opens the movement infiltrates the first big tutti. The Seventh Symphony is given a warm, flowing performance, with woodwinds kept expressively audible in the first movement’s arching coda, while the finale’s alternation of a jaunty main theme with a chorale-style second subject is very evenly judged.

In the last two Symphonies tempi are sometimes stretched so far that the arguments threatened to snap, although the Trio to the Eight’s Scherzo is uncommonly swift. Here Maazel faces yet more competition from BR-Klassik themselves, in this case a 1977 Eight under Rafael Kubelik (now available separately on 900703), a magnificent reading in all respects, heroic, transparent and, in the great Adagio, drawn with the subtlest of brush strokes. Maazel’s Eight is broader than Kubelik’s by almost eight minutes (the differences in the editions used aren’t too significant) and with a quite overwhelmingly intense two-tier climax to the Adagio. The first moment’s coda is very imposing, but is it all just a little too theatrical? Certainly the first movement of the Ninth seems to be, a monumentally broad 31′17″, a weighty, slow-motion traversal, with a fairly “regular” Scherzo and a towering account of the Adagio third movement, perhaps the most satisfying episode in the whole cycle.

Summing up the pros and cons of this fascinating set is difficult. Was Maazel consciously recalling the older Celibidache’s Bruckner tradition with the Munich Philharmonic? After all, the charismatic Romanian maestro had died merely three years earlier. Somehow I doubt it: although many of Maazel’s tempi are slow, his style is more animated and outwardly demonstrative than Celi’s, the points he makes less aimed at integration than demonstration. I supposed you could say he provides a highly stimulating “alternative set”, one to place beside the colder beauty of Karajan (DG), the more temperate Wand (BMG) and Skrowaczewski (Arte Nova), the excitable (and at times ethereal) Jochum (DG or EMI), the elevated sobriety of Haitink (Philips) or the admirably clear-headed Volkmar Andreae (Music & Arts). It certainly gave me a great deal of enjoyment, much as attending the actual concerts would have done.

Stephen Habington
Classical Music Sentinel, January 2011

During the 1980s after his brief tenure at the Vienna State Opera, Lorin Maazel retained the services of three London Orchestras to perform a complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies in a single day. He wore white tie and athletic shoes for the event. Norman Lebrecht quoted him as saying, “This is going to test my theory that conducting is, among other things, a sport. You’ve got to be fit to conduct. And if you haven’t learned to conserve your energies in concert, you’re in the wrong profession.” At the age of 69, and evidently still very fit, Maazel embarked on a similarly daunting orchestral marathon: a traversal of the Anton Bruckner symphonies (excluding the F minor or ‘00’) in a concert series lasting two months. This maximum effort was a huge success with critics and public alike. And record collectors worldwide are now the beneficiaries of the expert digital recordings made by Bavarian radio engineers. Maazel uses the Leopold Nowak Edition of the scores throughout.

Maazel certainly chose the right orchestra to undertake this demanding musical journey. Although only 50 years old at the time of these performances, the Bavarian RSO inherited a natural ‘München’ approach to Bruckner. The performing tradition was handed down from their first chief conductor, Eugen Jochum. Every section of the orchestra demonstrates its strength and sensitivity here. Ten concerts and not one of them could be considered indifferent. Lorin Maazel deserves all praise for instigating the series and guiding the realization of each work so successfully. This is Bruckner to live with. A fine booklet note by Benjamin Gunnar-Cohrs, co-editor of the Bruckner complete edition, Vienna, sets the seal of quality on this jolly green box.

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