in: Reviews

February 15, 2013

Date Night at Symphony Hall

by

(Stu Rosner photo)

Christoph von Dohnányi and Radu Lupu (Stu Rosner photo)

The BSO’s thematic idea of a Valentine’s Day program featured Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4, “Romantic.” Christoph von Dohnányi brought out wonderful sounds from the BSO; he began by leading Radu Lupu in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A.

The revered Romanian pianist Radu Lupu has continued touring and performing, but for the last many years, has not issued new recordings. So his arrival in town is an event heralded to concert-goers. Unlike his Carnegie Hall appearances last month which showcased 19th-century French music that he has not recorded, we heard him return to a familiar work: Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 in A, K.488 (which he performed in his debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in December 1977). This 1786 composition atypically includes an Adagio in a minor key, as well as the composer’s own cadenza for the opening Allegro (which Mr. Lupu performed). We were treated to a muted, restrained side of Mozart rather than the oft-heard manic ebullience. Mr. Lupu graced this work with a caressing tenderness, a sense of intimacy, and a calmness which never impeded the forward motion of the phrases or the work as a whole. This performance revealed a work of great subtlety and profundity. The Adagio was a study in heartbreak. The Allegro assai was marked by a melancholia that colored the ascending phrase trying for lightness and happiness, granting a great emotional power to this music—all the more so for the reserve expressed in this reading. Throughout, the piano playing was lean, focused, and, like a magnet, drew listeners into its soundworld. Lupu interacted visually with the orchestra (noticeably more than many other soloists), even at one point conducting with his left hand; Dohnányi did an admirable job leading the ensemble to match Mr. Lupu’s sound, phrasing, and pace. At spots I wished for a leaner sound from the orchestra to match the piano, as, visibly, did Dohnányi; hopefully this will be resolved in future performances.

Those who came only to hear Lupu left at intermission. I was not surprised but I am deeply disappointed. Beforehand I heard voices resignedly accepting that one had to hear a Bruckner symphony once a decade. This degree of provincialism is a shame for all of Boston and a blight in our midst which must be extirpated if we wish to be more than snobbish posers. Worse, I fear this limited outlook plagues the Trustees and Overseers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who still have not announced a new music director as we begin to face a third season of visiting conductors and an increasingly rudderless orchestra of fine musicians drifting slowly, inexorably apart.

Those who stayed were treated to some of the finest moments of the BSO playing that I have heard in recent years, a salutary reminder of what this orchestra once was and could be again. Conducting a stage-full of musicians from memory, Dohnányi took to the stage for Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 4 in E-flat, “Romantic” (the “second state” of 1878 – 1880, here performed in the 1936 Robert Haas edition). Bruckner was an insecure man, ill-suited to the neurotic world of late 19th-century Vienna; this led to the multiple revisions and differing versions of this symphony, and also a textual description of this symphony’s music. That Gothic-tinged narrative bears remarkably little relation to the music, so is best left to one side. More germane to what one hears in this symphony is Bruckner’s own background as an organist, and his manifest love for the sound of that instrument. A mighty work, clocking in at some 75 minutes, this symphony features long phrases and requires focused concentration and careful pacing on the part of the musicians—as well as some fabulously talented instrumentalists who have solos throughout the work. From the shimmer of tremolo strings which began this performance ex nihilo, there was purpose, excitement, and shape. In the third measure a horn solo begins: James Sommerville, principal, brought to this line a nobility and plaintiveness which perfectly captured the twin poles of this composition. As the sound swelled, the celli and bassi, along with the low brass, perfectly captured the presence and magnitude of an organ with their harmonic pedal points. As the lengthy development came to an end, the violas effected a gorgeous entrance:  from nothing, something, with overtones of salvation. Only around measure 501 did I hear any hint of the gallant knight-errant from Bruckner’s textual narrative of this symphony; the pianissimo arpeggios in the celli recalled the opening of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene – “A gentle Knight was pricking on the plain.” For all that brief glimmer of martial travel, this remained music of vast spaces and clear, resounding skies carrying sounds far and wide. Throughout this opening Bewegt, nicht zu schnell movement, there was excellent playing from the strings and winds; much of the brass playing was admirable, although a few entrances were not as clear as one would wish and these will hopefully improve in future performances. A smattering of applause greeted the end of this movement, and well-deserved it was too.

The Andante quasi Allegretto opens in a more sombre and profound vein as Bruckner mines the pathos of the relative key of c minor. The heartbreak in this movement can match that of the Mozart Adagio from the first half of the program; sadly that effect, for me, was interrupted by issues with tempo and dynamics. Dohnányi signaled and gestured, but the orchestra flagged in their concentration and attention. The resulting performance was not as powerful or moving as it might have been. The Scherzo: Bewegt and Trio: Nicht zu schnell; Keinesfalls schleppend began, as the first movement, from silence with a halo of string tremolo before the noble and full-voiced brass entrance, reminders of this work’s other emotional pole. The Trio was here performed at a slower tempo than I have heard previously, rendering this work as charmingly bucolic rather than a Ländler-like country dance. By the end of the Trio some of the magic of the first movement had returned. The Finale: Bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell opened with an insistent repetition of quarter notes on the dominant underneath a plangent call in the brass, giving the music a troubling, ruminative character. Themes from earlier in the symphony returned, clearly heard, to unite these musical meditations into one transformative whole. The awkward transition announced late in the development section by the second violins at measure 358 sounded tentative; it is a shockingly innovative turn in the music and I hope this hesitancy disappears in future performances (even as I fully acknowledge how difficult a transition this is to capture in any performance). Those less familiar with this work might not have been as distracted by it as was I. Fortunately the orchestral forces rallied and brought this symphony to a firmer, more resounding and satisfying conclusion.

Christoph von Dohnányi drew out the motifs in this symphony and succeeded in balancing disparate voices. He also brought out the humor in Bruckner, something not always heard in this work. I appreciated Dohnányi’s foregrounding the comedic timing in Bruckner, the teasing aspects of this music, and applaud these choices and decisions. The result is a more human, more captivating understanding of Bruckner’s behemoth composition. Dohnányi was visibly passionate about all of the music; one could only wish all the musicians had been as keen and as focused as was he.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

60 Comments

  1. I used to be stunned when reading those reviews of late 19th century. The words by those authoritative music experts/critics are often laughably ridiculous.

    I absolutely hate them. Yet, that fashion of being harshly critical is much more admirable, compared to what the readers have to read in our times (everything is much inflated, I have to add).

    I will get to the music shortly.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 15, 2013 at 2:59 pm

  2. Nice review. You accurately capture what was so moving about Radu Lupu’s interpretation of the Mozart and you convey the grandeur and nuances of the Bruckner. For someone like myself who had never heard Bruckner’s 4th symphony live, it was a revelation.

    Comment by Ashley — February 15, 2013 at 5:56 pm

  3. We heard the Friday afternoon concert. The Mozart was a completely lifeless performance. It’s shocking to realize that the last time we heard this work live, it was performed by Mitsuko Uchida and conducted by Colin Davis–they sounded like two completely different pieces. Uchida/Davis was vibrant, alive, alert, playful, and frankly edge-of-the-seat. Lupu/Dohnanyi was boring, uninvolving, and lifeless. ‘Nuff said. Lupu was playing like a man who doesn’t even care anymore. I’ve heard him live too many times to remember, and never previously have I felt that he was just going through the motions and living off a reputation. I’d be very careful about going to hear him again in a future concert, it was that bad.

    Bruckner is my favorite composer by far. No one has ever explained Bruckner better than Hans-Hubert Schonzeler, who wrote the most inspired description of Bruckner’s work: “Bruckner’s symphonies are in reality one gigantic arch which starts on earth amidst suffering humanity, travels up to the heavens to the very throne of Grace, and returns with a message of peace.” We have not been given the privilege of many performances of B4 in Boston, the last one being Kurt Masur’s five years ago (hard to believe it’s been that long!). There were a lot of things to like about Dohnanyi’s reading, not least of which was the outstanding playing of the BSO. And to be clear, the BSO gave Dohnanyi 1000% of what he wanted. So any shortcomings are his.

    To me, this was an earthbound performance of a deeply spiritual symphony, drained of the spiritual element. I’m not sure Dohnanyi would be anyone’s choice for being an illuminating guide to Bruckner, and today’s performance did nothing to change that impression. There were moments of beauty and wonder in the performance, but the overriding arch never took shape. I thought the fourth movement came off best of all, but in the end, to my ears, this was a well-played “miss” of a giant of a symphony. What a shame. Sadly, we’ve not been graced with a lot of Bruckner in Boston. But in recent years, we’ve had two towering and truly great performances: Hans Graf’s astonishing and utterly transporting performance of B7, and shock of all shocks, Benjamin Zander’s Boston Philharmonic’s performance of B8–easily the best live performance I’ve heard of that incredible work, coming from the most unlikely of sources.

    Also, a comment needs to be made about Marc Mandel’s (empty) program notes. I hate to say it, but someone else needs to write program notes for Bruckner symphonies, because Mandel is not up to the task. While one can’t criticize Mandel for saying anything inaccurate, what he is guilty of doing is failing to provide sufficient context for non-Brucknerians to get their arms around and understand this magnificent music. It seems clear that Mandel is not a big fan of Bruckner. There’s no crime in that. But if so, then why doesn’t the BSO get someone else to write Bruckner program notes who loves the music and can help people develop a pathway to appreciating it for the greatness that it truly is (which Mandel does not provide).

    Finally, when listing the recommended recordings of the symphony, it was shocking that Mandel omitted either of the two studio recordings from Herbert von Karajan, the greatest Bruckner conductor of all time. Most Brucknerians will tell you that one of those two performances is either the greatest of all time or second-greatest (my vote would be for the DG recording, not the EMI one). Was that an oversight on Mandel’s part, or was someone pursuing a non-musical agenda? To omit Karajan from any mention in the Bruckner discography is like omitting Klemperer from the Beethoven discography. What a shame.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 15, 2013 at 8:36 pm

  4. “In the third measure a horn solo begins: James Sommerville, principal, brought to this line a nobility and plaintiveness which perfectly captured the twin poles of this composition.”

    There was one Feb 14th 2013 BSO concert. I heard it. and I heard a gaffe (like horn breath expiring) just after the famous theme begins. Perhaps other viewers could confirm. It wasn’t my neighbor making noise.

    “A mighty work, clocking in at some 75 minutes”

    Actually, there was a plan to time the performance. But I was so concentrated and forgot to do that. von Dohnanyi’s tempo was a moderate one. I would bet the performance lasted for 65-68 mins.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 15, 2013 at 11:20 pm

  5. Radu Lupu’s Mozart: it might have seemed “routine” but it was not. Cashman Prince is right to speak of tenderness, calm, intimacy. No “display”, no “virtuosity,” no rapturous colors — how illuminating to realize that Mozart needs none of these, really. Radu Lupu’s performance was “routine” in the the way that our daily life is “routine,” obscure, small, mediocre, so “unimpressive” — until it is wrenched away from us. (Ah! Had Karajan heard such a tender, intimate Mozart, would he have been immunized against the vain dreams of superhuman grandeur that seduced him?)

    Dohnanyi was really right to make the Brucker move right along! He mercifully avoided any hint of metaphysical pomposity and avoided self-indulgent “longueurs”.. A stark, rigorous spirituality. Saint Teresa of the Cross.

    Comment by Ashley — February 16, 2013 at 7:59 am

  6. Ashley, it’s extremely interesting how we could have heard the same thing so differently. I’m glad you enjoyed the Mozart. I went with four people, and we all had the (lifeless) same experience with the Mozart. And for the first time in my concert-going history spanning 30+ years of concerts (and literally many hundreds of concerts), I fell asleep in the first movement for a brief bit. I wasn’t especially tired.

    As for the Bruckner, to my ears, the problem with the performance was not tempo (I had no issues with Dohnanyi’s tempos on the whole, although I thought the opening to the third movement was a bit turgid). The problem was that I didn’t hear an ounce of the spiritual dimension in the performance. You can call it “metaphysical pomposity” as you wish, but Bruckner performed without the spiritual element, which is central to all of his symphonies, is kind of like performing Brahms’ German Requiem without a chorus. Different conductors have interpreted that spirituality in different ways, and that’s fine. But in Dohnanyi’s case, I didn’t hear any of it. Because of that, the performance seemed interminable (which is the charge that detractors levy against Bruckner’s music). I felt exhausted by the time it had ended, and not in a good way. And truth be told, there are more than a few evenings at home where I can happily listen to multiple Bruckner symphonies in one sitting, and would sometimes even go on longer except that it’s time for bed. So I have no issue with the length of a Bruckner symphony or that different conductors bring different aspects to the music. But I have yet to hear any performance of any Bruckner symphony in which a conductor has put across a convincing interpretation in which the spiritual element was excluded. And as a final comment, one need not be even a believer in order to hear, be nurtured by, and embrace the spiritual element of Bruckner’s astonishing symphonies.

    The bottom line for me: Dohnanyi does not “get” Bruckner. From having heard his recordings of Bruckner, to this live performance, he misses it by a mile. There’s no crime in that, because lots of fabulous conductors have never “gotten” Bruckner (Klemperer, Solti, Mravinsky, Colin Davis, etc.). But for someone to truly put across a memorable performance of Bruckner, I think you need to both “get” Bruckner and to truly love this music, not just like it. We’ve had some of those performances here with the BSO. Three that quickly come to mind are Haitink’s B7 and Hans Graf’s remarkable B7, and Ozawa’s final and (surprisingly astonishing) B9. With an honorable mention to Ingo Metzmacher’s B6, which was an enjoyable performance that didn’t quite “nail it” but still resonates in my memory.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 16, 2013 at 9:05 am

  7. I’ll leave the macro critiques to others, and just say that I’m among those who had the impression that the first chair horn had a subpar —for him — evening on Thursday.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — February 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

  8. Mogulmeister: I really enjoy reading your thoughtful and articulate comments. I will reflect further. Thank you. (And I’m bad at moguls, too! I have much to learn…)

    Comment by Ashley — February 16, 2013 at 11:47 am

  9. As residents of rural NH, we always look forward to our yearly weekend in Boston and a very special BSO performance. Yesterday’s matinee was beyond our expectations. We were immediately drawn into the genius musical minds of Mozart and Bruckner, a world of beautiful, glorious, emotional, and serenely impressive compositions. The BSO, led by Dohnanyi’s masterful strokes and brilliant interpretations, and Radu Lupu’s complete artistry at the piano, combined to create, for us, an unforgettable afternoon in Symphony Hall. Thank you to everyone who made this happen!!
    Music appreciation is a gift to treasure and a privilege to experience.

    Comment by Mary — February 16, 2013 at 11:48 am

  10. Ladies and Gents, it should not be controversial to say that when the score was not nearly adequately executed, it is crazy to even talk about the ‘profound’ meaning (interpretation, you guys’ favorite word). As much as I dislike Cashman’s words (where is the heartbreak in the 2nd movement?!), I think he was right in capturing some of the underplay by BSO. The seasoned Bruckner listener MMeister is completely wrong in this regard. Even if I were to wear a hearing aid, there would be 1000% BSO playing. It was just sub-standard orchestra playing.

    Not only were there a few unclean entries of the brass, their sound was shaky from the beginning to the end as well. Perhaps not extacly to the end, they were better in the last a few phrases. The strings were not much better. Clearly they saw the lengthy string trembling as a heavy burden rather than their offering to the sublime music of Bruckner (how could those Mahler lovers realize this). They dragged the performance (not in pacec). The conductor had to use extra gestures to bring the sound up and down (just as I did in my mind). The poor string players were so tired, that they forgot pp and ff. You can imagine, as a result, the lovely hunting scherzo was not full of german simplicity and joy at all.

    I want to talk about the orchestra seating again. Had I been younger, I probably would thumb up for von Dohnanyi’s choice, the traditional Geramn style. But but but, we have to be very specific. I am not convinced by the reason of ‘better sound’ from his interview. No.5 symphony has many contrasts between v1 and cello. Placing them on the same side of the platform does not help the acoustics. On the contrary, placing V1 and V2 on the opposite sides does cause precision issues, as I believe that could be one of the causes that I was not happy with the Beethoven performance last week.

    This is more of a problem for the Bruckner performance. Noticing them or not, the strings are constantly playing, trembling, usually together. In this work, the 2nd violin plays along with the 1stV for most of the time. In the concert hall, the V2 was defintely not ‘loud’. The hesitation might have made things worse, because they could not receive guestures well. If V1 and V2 sit together, some of the weak playing problem would go away. The viola has some beautiful melodies. There is no reason they can’t sit on right hand side of the conductor. So, I would place them as such:

    __V2__C
    V1__vD__Br

    I personaly think BSO might have a chance to be better in Friday and today performances, just because practice helps.

    Mr. MMeister’s complaint against the program note being ’empty’ is also completely unreasonable. While we could more or less feel his passion for Bruckner, recordings/conductors name listing is certainly a very EMPTY way to argue, without anything specific.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 16, 2013 at 1:20 pm

  11. correction:
    not 1000% BSO playing

    Comment by Thorsten — February 16, 2013 at 1:22 pm

  12. Ashley, thanks for your kind comments. I’m never offended by people who hear things differently than I do, or have a different opinion. Yours comes off as quite eloquent.

    I don’t know how much exposure you have had to Bruckner. His music is not easy, it’s ambitious on a scale that few composers ever attempted. But Bruckner brings rewards that are unique and distinctive, and frankly, are so overwhelmingly powerful that his music still moves me to tears of joy. If you are interested in his music, I can’t recommend highly enough that you quickly get ahold of Karajan’s astonishing box set of the Bruckner symphonies. For all of $27, you can have the greatest set ever recorded of Symphonies #1-9:

    http://www.amazon.com/Bruckner-9-Symphonies-Box-Set/dp/B001DCQI8W/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361038200&sr=8-1&keywords=karajan+bruckner

    I know lots of people don’t care for Karajan, and that’s fine. Personally, I have liked or loved a lot of his work (but not loved a lot of it too). However, whether one cares for Karajan in general or not, his Bruckner transcends everything else he ever did. People who deeply care for Bruckner’s music and know Bruckner will unanimously tell you the same thing: Karajan is, if not the greatest Bruckner conductor of all time, then certainly one of the top three. His achievements in Bruckner leave everyone else in the dust–and that’s not a criticism of anyone else.

    What’s so exemplary about this set is that it’s pure and unadulterated. Karajan knows this music from the inside and does nothing less than put it forward in the best possible way, which is no easy thing because Bruckner’s music is constructed modularly, not linearly (as most classical music is). No willful intrusions, no eccentricities, just pure Bruckner. While Karajan is Star #1 in this set, Star #2 is the Berlin Philharmonic. Listen to this set, and then tell me that you’ve ever heard any orchestral playing better anywhere. The orchestra’s playing reaches the level of super-human. Unbelievable balance, sonority, beauty, mystery. It just blows me away still, and I’ve heard each of these symphonies in this set easily 50+ times. I’ve heard lots of great recordings of the BPO, but honestly, they’ve never consistently played like they play Bruckner. Their playing is in a class of its own, and is worth hearing if just to hear such unimaginably outstanding orchestral playing.

    With the exception of #1, Karajan’s performances in these symphonies are universally considered to be the among the very best recordings of each of these symphonies, if not the single best. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could pull that off, given all the recordings of these symphonies over the years, but it’s true. I would argue that #2,4,6, and 8 are the very finest recordings of each of those symphonies, and 5,7, and 9 are among the top two or three. I don’t care for #3 not because it’s not a strong performance (it is), but because Karajan performs the 3rd version of the symphony, and I’ve come to realize that it’s the first version that works best. #1 is a real miss, and it’s a shame, because most don’t realize that #1 is such an amazing, truly astonishing piece of music that today would still shock audiences if they were aware of it, and put to bed very quickly Bruckner’s undeserved reputation as not that interesting. The recording/performance of #1 to hear is Jochum’s Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performance, only available as a part of his DG boxed set (not to be confused with his second boxed set with the Staatskapelle Dresden). Jochum’s #1 is an astonishing, shocking blast of energy that in the end arrives in a place of pure, overwhelming light. #1 is not a perfect symphony, I think Bruckner falters a bit in the first movement and the first part of the final movement, but it still is a great success even if it’s not perfect. It’s unfortunate that almost no one, even Bruckner lovers, really knows the astonishing symphony that is #1. Even for Bruckner, it’s an outlier. #2-9 follow a linear pathway, with #8 and #9 veering even further up and out than the pathway followed from #2-7. But #1 is a revolutionary piece of music that delivers a blast of energy like you’ve never heard before or since. Unfortunately, Karajan misses it.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 16, 2013 at 1:30 pm

  13. “Ah! Had Karajan heard such a tender, intimate Mozart, would he have been immunized against the vain dreams of superhuman grandeur that seduced him?”

    is this a typical stereotyping?

    or perhaps I could ask the question another way. Can music making be untermensch? if yes, is it still music?

    Comment by Thorsten — February 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

  14. Hi Thorsten,

    Interesting comments. Keep in mind that I was at Friday’s performance, not Thursday night’s. Based on numerous comments from others, it sure sounds like Somerville blew the opening of the symphony Thursday night. But he didn’t Friday. That said, while he hit the notes Friday, I thought his playing was too aggressive to start, and it lacked the effective subtlety and “mystery” I’ve heard in numerous recordings and in one live performance with the Concertgebouw (heck, even in the performance the BSO did five years ago with Masur). The BSO’s playing may overall have been “off” on Thursday night in B4, but it wasn’t on Friday. I thought the orchestra’s playing on Friday was exemplary on the whole.

    With regards to your comment about my lack of explanation for my criticism of Marc Mandel’s program notes, the only reason why I didn’t get into it is that I’m afraid to open up that can of worms and further make my comment another half a mile long. Mandel’s notes focused on things that are certainly not unimportant but skirt the central issue in Bruckner: spirituality. Yes, it’s good to know about Bruckner’s humble origins in rural peasant Austria, that he was not a man of the world and was utterly lost in the sophistication of Vienna, and to discuss the Brahms/Wagner wars and how Bruckner got caught in them. All well and good. But central to Bruckner’s being, which I think is the most important thing one needs to know in order to be able to “get inside” Bruckner’s music, is that this is music about spiritual quest. Like I indicated above, Hans-Hubert Schonzeler said it better than anyone ever will, putting it in layman’s terms: “Bruckner’s music is in reality one gigantic arch which starts on earth amidst suffering humanity, travels up to the heavens to the very throne of Grace, and returns with a message of peace.” Since Bruckner’s construction of his symphonies is modular, not linear (are there any other composers who approached it this way? I can’t think of any), maybe some discussion of that would have been helpful. But to skirt the spirituality issue means you’re not really explaining what any of this music is about. Bruckner’s symphonies are each a search. They’re not an easy search, nor a quick search, but a not easy search that takes us through mystery, beauty, angst, joy, humor, and hardship, before arriving at a hugely, life-affirming conclusion that seems entirely organic and not even a little artificial. If that were explained, I think it would help make Bruckner’s music more understandable to others.

    I can only imagine myself being at yesterday’s concert and hearing Bruckner for the first time, and being confronted with this long, heavy, seemingly directionless monstrosity. Without context to even think about it, it would probably make me run for the hills and never want to hear any of it again. And even with context, when hearing an unsuccessful performance as I did from Dohnanyi on Friday, I definitely had the hills even on my mind. :)

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 16, 2013 at 2:01 pm

  15. The printed-program Bruckner note is different from the online one, which is by Ledbetter? Interesting.

    Comment by David Moran — February 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm

  16. Is the Bruckner 4th actually 75 minutes? I have the original LP release of Karajan’s DGG recording and it (barely) fits on two sides, about 63 minutes total. The sleeve says “Original version: 1878/1880” which of course is not the ORIGINAL original version, but apparently the same version as the first performance of 1881 and as this week’s concerts.

    Comment by Mark Lutton — February 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm

  17. Clearly, listeners who have attended the same concerts can come away with different impressions and experiences of what they have heard. Readers of Cashman Kerr Prince’s generally favorable review of Thursday night’s Boston Symphony concert should not be tempted to dismiss his positive response after reading the highly subjective, negative reactions presented in some of the Comments here . I attended Thursday night’s performance, and observed that the audience responded quite enthusiastically to the Mozart concerto and even more so to the Bruckner Fourth. From my vantage point in the second balcony center, the audience seemed remarkably attentive throughout the Bruckner, and there was far less of the restlessness and tubercular coughing that we often hear at Symphony Hall. Even though the Orchestra has had very little opportunity to perform Bruckner in recent years, I thought the playing was of a very high order, and a bobbled horn note at the opening of the work hardly discredits the fine playing of James Sommerville in the demanding principal horn part in this work. I would agree with Ashley that conductor Christoph von Dohnányi kept the symphony moving ‘right along.” The performance was not afflicted by the ‘stop and start’ segmentation of the music that mars many Bruckner symphony performances. The divided seating of the violins once again paid ample dividends in clarifying the string lines and also gave additional prominence to the important melodic lines Bruckner wrote for the violas, wonderfully played on Thursday night. I found hearing this Bruckner Fourth a gripping and exalting experience, and I would happily have Christoph von Dohnányi as my guide for other Bruckner symphonies. As Cashman Kerr Prince notes, the conductor’s passion for this music was visible.

    Whether a given performance provides a spiritual experience for a particular listener is quite evidently a personal response. Because one does not have such an experience during a particular performance does not mean that others did not, nor does it mean that the conductor does not “get” or “love” the music. Here, Mogulmeister lumps von Dohnányi with, among others, Otto Klemperer as conductors who do not “get” Bruckner. I would note that reviewers have praised von Dohnányi’s Bruckner recordings, and critics considered Klemperer recordings of the composer’s symphonies 4 and 6 as exemplary in their day. EMI has just reissued his recordings of symphonies 4-9. Somebody does seem to think that Klemperer ‘got’ Bruckner. Both the Orchestra and the bulk of the audience at Symphony Hall on Thursday night seemed to think that Christoph von Dohnányi gets him, too.

    A further point: BSO Program Publications Director Marc Mandel did not write the program notes for this week’s BSO Bruckner Fourth concerts. As David Moran suggests, Steven Ledbetter wrote the notes. Given the absence of negative opinion about the work or the composer in the Bruckner article, I find no reason to conclude that Ledbetter is not a fan of Bruckner or that he does not love the music.

    Marc Mandel did prepare a list of recordings of the symphony. He did omit the Karajan recordings—and well-regarded ones by Klemperer and Karl Böhm. However, more curious to me was the failure of the BSO program to mention that the Orchestra itself recorded the Bruckner Fourth under Erich Leinsdorf for RCA in the Sixties.

    Comment by Stephen A. — February 16, 2013 at 6:31 pm

  18. Hi Stephen,

    I stand corrected, it was Stephen Ledbetter who wrote the program notes for the Bruckner. My apologies on that. It was Marc Mandel who made the recording recommendations which intentionally or otherwise did not mention Karajan. I still stand on my opinion that Ledbetter’s program notes are inadequate.

    People are always going to disagree on who does this well and who does that well. That’s fine. To my ears, the great Bruckner conductors are Karajan (who towers over all others), Jochum (how I wish I heard him perform with the BSO!), Giulini, Skrowaczewski, and Celibidache (in his own non-conforming way). Less reliable but still more likely than not to put across a convincing Bruckner performance would include Haitink, Chailly, Welser-Most, Blomstedt, Sawallisch, and Masur. But great conductors who to my ears miss Bruckner completely would include Klemperer, Solti, Bernstein, Mravinsky, and others. I don’t think of Dohnanyi as a “great conductor” in the first place, but I’d also put him on this list. Others can hear things differently than I do, but that’s my experience.

    Klemperer is one of my favorite conductors of all time. I absolutely love so much of his work in Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, and others. But his Bruckner is a complete miss. I am well aware that his recording of the 6th has achieved “legendary status” but to my ears that reputation is totally undeserved. In my conversations with hard-core Brucknerians, people are split 50/50 on Klemperer. Some think he definitely is a Brucknerian of stature who comes at it from his own idiom, and others feel as I do that his Bruckner is awful. I wish I could enjoy Klemperer’s Bruckner, but I just don’t. That said, I have to have over 20 Klemperer CDs in my collection of various other composers (I long ago sold off the few recordings of Klemperer’s Bruckner that I ever acquired; others I heard from libraries or friends). I think Klemperer was a magnificent conductor for sure; I just don’t think he did Bruckner convincingly at all.

    One last comment: If anyone heard Jochum perform Bruckner with the BSO, I’d love to hear your comments about your memories of those concerts. The two conductors who I’m devastated that I never got to hear live are Jochum and Giulini, and both used to come to Boston periodically. I did get to hear Karajan live once, but it was a Beethoven program.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 17, 2013 at 8:28 am

  19. “Whether a given performance provides a spiritual experience for a particular listener is quite evidently a personal response.”

    In general, people accept personal listening experience as a good thing. (yes) everybody is entitled his opinions, which (but, I may add) can be meaningful or can be meaningless. On the podium, the conductors (those who love music) try to be faithful and find THE best way to reproduce the music. Off the podium, the audience receive sth. If this sth is very personal, I say it is very likely distortion. Personal experience is really very awful.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

  20. we all know the audience reaction does not have much to do with music here.

    if one compares Thursday night vs the recent Liszt PC1 concert, he does not have to be sensitive to notice the difference: they were very cool to Lupu.

    Of course, one does not have to be super sensitive to notice the uneasiness among the general audience (their breath is part of the atmosphere) during the intervals between the movements as the symphony evolved. If I dare, they were not prepared for the long symphony.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 17, 2013 at 9:25 am

  21. Yes, a spiritual experience for a particular listener is evidently a personal response but associating of those personal responses to quality of performed music is not so complicated task. The word “quality” in this context has a very “loaded” meaning however.

    I attended Saturday night concert. Frankly it was the only concert during all current season that we booked long in advance. Being Bruckner devotee the BSO’s B4 was the only concert this season that I cared. It is not the greatest Bruckner symphony but playing Bruckner is the noblest task that BSO, or any orchestra for that matter, can undertake. So, here are my compliments to BSO for scheduling Bruckner.

    Now return to the loaded word “quality” that I started with. Did the concert raised to occasion and provided some kind of “quality” that formed an opportunity for spiritual transcendent mass event, something that a proper Bruckner performance able to do? The answerer is no. It was bad Bruckner concert, mostly inept playing and incompetent interpretation of the Bruckner music.

    The Mozart’s Piano Concerto was kind of funny. As authoritative and Brahmsanian-like Mr. Radu Lupu looked as off the wall was his play. There was some very few wonderful moments during the second movement but the rest was quite annoying. Yes, there was no spiritual experience of any kind but there was just an anxiety to have that play to be over. On a positive side Lupu, Dohnányi and BSO shall not be overly suicidal as with all simplicity of Mozart piano concertos to deliver a performance of Mozart that would be a memorable spiritual experience is astonishingly difficult. As popular and “simple” let say Eine kleine Nachtmusik is but how many truly great awe-inspiring performances of the serenade can you name? I would not be surprised if many of the readers would name none.

    Anyhow, then the main course of the BSO season came, the Bruckner. The reading that Christoph von Dohnányi demonstrated converted Bruckner from Capital Grill steak into a Microwave warmed sandwich from a gas station. It was not even the sandwich but rather a TV commercial that the gas station has lunch sandwich as a compliment for 17 gallons of tank filling. Instead of a powerful, elegant authoritative, meaningful and consequential Bruckner sound we had some kind of abridged stage-version on the Bruckner’s thymes. There was no rise of Brucknerian spirit in Symphony Hall but rather there was a sequence of Brucknerian-related notes and spiritual disappointments.

    It is hard to say why Dohnányi went this way. He might be the one who do not get Bruckner. There is very limited amount of alive conductors who get Bruckner and who have balls to interpret Bruckner in the way how it deserved to be played, without converting Bruckner into some kind of instantly gratifyable Hollywood soundtrack. It is also possible that assessing the BSO play during rehearsals Dohnányi just decided do not go with BSO into any danger territory and to hold BSO where they still more or less do not fall apart. I do not have the answer but I do know that BSO play was hardly manageable. If you sit at the concert and expect that each next note will be painful then it is not “spiritual experience” but in a way an act of masochism. Yes, there were some moments where BSO was compiled and played kind of semi-interesting, that would be a good first rehearsal for let say NDR Symphony but most of time the BSO play was not suitable for a professional orchestra.

    BSO strings were fine. Whle they were fine it was visible that Dohnányi did not go for complex string impressions but at least notes were rendered properly. In some instances the strings throw a phenomenal play but there were literally instances over the whole symphony. Woodwinds were OK but too loud at time, at least from the location I sat (first row, sit 20, first balcony on the right). Brass was nightmare. I do not even want to go there and only that I would say trombone section is excluded from my criticism – they were very good and pretty much let the rest of bad bras to hide behind own stability.

    So, what BSO demonstrated instead of the “spiritual experience”? For all intended purpose it was not a good orchestra playing Bruckner. The BSO as a whole played with expertise of a good college orchestra and Mr. Dohnányi demonstrated interpretation that would be most suitable for the college orchestra play Brahms not Bruckner. Was it “spiritual experience”, nope, rather a factual disappointment. Was it wasted evening to go to the concert hall last night? No it was not but for the same talking we do feel a strange attraction to glance at the highway accidents….

    What does it all means? Well, BSO never was an interesting Bruckner orchestra. After 1970s BSO was mostly good for light semi-abstract French music or for lounge German tunes. Somebody like Bruckner clearly brakes BSO back and the backs of the current people who lead BSO. Well, it is what it is; keep practicing BSO and pray to find some more or less permanent conductor who would keep BSO off chicken music and chick level of playing efforts.

    The Cat

    PS: I was surprised to hear that author of the review mentioned that people went to the concert to hear Mozart and left before Bruckner started. I have seen nothing like this on Saturday, quite an opposite. People did have a good reaction to Bruckner music, did listen attentively. I wish BSO would reimburse them with good Bruckner experiences.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 17, 2013 at 2:12 pm

  22. Notes and asides:

    “We were treated to a muted, restrained side of Mozart rather than the oft-heard manic ebullience. Mr. Lupu graced this work with a caressing tenderness, a sense of intimacy, and a calmness which never impeded the forward motion of the phrases or the work as a whole.” That’s a way of nicely saying slo-o-o-w. One could almost hear the orchestra chafing and thinking, Let’s get on with it, man!

    Yes, the Bruckner. As per usual these days I listened over the radio. It’s so easy! And I get all the music-cum-music, just none of the wonderful Symphony Hall ambience (and ambiance). Also I get to read, and drink, and sit in a comfortable chair. If the performance is really, really good I’ll put the book down and keep the glass filled. If the performance is transcendent I’ll turn the lights out. Last night, I read.

    With all the comments about the variations from day to day, I am reminded of what a loss we suffer with the Friday concerts no longer being broadcast.

    As to program notes, I never was much of a Ledbetter fan, although I liked him better than James Lyons; in their defense however, both were preceded by the inestimable Michael Steinberg.

    You want to hear great recordings of the Fourth? Try Oswald Kabasta with the Munich Philharmonic or Klemperer with the Vienna. Best of all (and thank you Romy) go for Gunther Wand and the NDR, on both DVD and CD.

    Finally, the BSO and Bruckner. Yes. No one who was there will ever forget Klaus Tennstedt’s stupendous Eighth, back when no one had ever heard of the man. (I have a 2-track broadcast check.) Later, William Steinberg did a really good Eighth too, available in that limited-edition BSO set. There are others as well, I’m sure. But last night after the broadcast CRB played the (late, great) Brian Bell’s hour featuring the very obscure Steinberg recording of the Sixth from RCA in 1970. My God! It was awful, in every which way. Then again it was Victor’s last under the old long-time Boston contract. But it did make me appreciate better what I had just been lucky enough to hear earlier.

    Comment by Clark Johnsen — February 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

  23. I went last night. I thought Radu Lupu played very well in the first movement and beautifully in the second movement, but was somewhat detached in the third. This is a common problem, however. Few pianists are able to achieve a rapt immersion into the perfect pathos of the adagio, and then leap without a backwards glance into the vigorous high spirits of the finale. I think most of them find it a bit distasteful, like dancing on a beach with a ship sinking behind you. It takes a kind of divine heartlessness to leave that state of wonder behind without a thought, a kind that is natural to Mozart, but to few of his interpreters. One who does achieve it is Mitsuko Uchida, and I agree with another commenter that her performance of this work is a benchmark, though not that this was a bad one.

    I am not very good at judging performances of Bruckner. I can attest that this was not a spiritual experience; no ghosts walked, and the dead remained dead. That said, I think criticizing a performance for a perceived lack of spirituality is extremely lazy. I don’t really know what “spiritual” means, and, less I come across as self-effacing, I don’t think anyone else does either. The quote from Schonzeler in which Bruckner goes to Heaven, gets the goods, and returns to bring us all peace, seems to me absurd overstatement; and then we are told this puts it in “laymen’s terms”, suggesting that this merely hints at a higher truth accessible only to the ordained.

    Thorsten in one of his comments asked, “can music making be untermensch? If yes, is it still music?” It is a good question, and one that I think can reasonably be extended to “can music making be spiritual ? If yes, is it still music ?”

    Comment by SamW — February 17, 2013 at 5:51 pm

  24. A few comments–

    Romy, your comments are not without merit in general when referring to the BSO as not a particularly good “Bruckner orchestra.” I don’t think it’s that they’re not capable of being that, but rather, it all comes down to who’s leading the orchestra and how well they respect him. I believe they respect Dohnanyi, but as I’ve said, when it comes to Bruckner, I just don’t think he has the goods. Consider the performance several years ago of Hans Graf leading the BSO in B7. Man, that was a truly great performance, on every level, that I never could imagine the BSO was capable of! What Graf achieved with the orchestra was superlative playing at a level that was everything it needed to be. I’ve heard the BSO play B7 live with 5 conductors, and Graf not only brought an insightful and deeply moving interpretation to the table (and he convinced me of some of his interpretive choices which would not have been mine), but he got the orchestra to play in a way I’ve never heard anyone achieve before in this work. What Graf uniquely did is to make the various sections of movements within the symphony sound different as necessary. Bruckner clearly uses different “blocks of sound” as an architectural tool. Graf got the orchestra to emphasize the differences in the sound from different “modules,” thereby illuminating the architecture in a very clear, compelling, and unique way. He made sure that each of the different sections *sounded* different, not by playing with tempo as some conductors do for cheap effect (hello, Marek Janowski). Rather, Graf made sure that the contrasting blocks of sounded truly contrasted rather than homogenized, which created architectural clarity. It was astonishing and overwhelming.

    So the bottom line here is, the BSO is capable of playing Bruckner with real eloquence. The brass has certainly come a long way since the horrendous days of Ozawa’s late tenure and the beginning of Levine’s. I think with the right conductor, the BSO would be a first-rate Bruckner orchestra. They’re not far from it, I think.

    I have some specific comments to Sam. You’re welcome to ridicule my comments as you feel best. Mh comments when it comes to Bruckner are nothing but sincere and heartfelt, even if you feel otherwise. Certainly there are more than a few of us who know Bruckner’s music really, really well, and who understand the spirituality issue in his music which you ridicule. Perhaps you just haven’t spent enough time with Bruckner’s music, or you’ve been listening to the wrong performances/recordings. Or perhaps Bruckner’s music just won’t speak to you for whatever reason. Whatever the case, it’s unfortunate that you feel the need to put down my comments and attribute all sorts of derogatory connotations to them, simply because you haven’t had the same experience yourself that some of the rest of us have had with this magnificent music. One thing’s for sure: I’m not alone in having these sorts of experiences with Bruckner that you ridicule. A number of years ago I was reading an article from one of the London papers online, talking about Simon Rattle’s difficulties in Berlin. One of the comments that was made in the article went something like this: “Rattle does not openly embrace the spirituality of Bruckner or play much more than a limited repertory of Bruckner’s symphonies. That doesn’t go over well with a lot of people associated with the Philharmonic, because it’s an article of faith in Germany or Austria that Bruckner is nothing less than the second greatest composer of symphonies after Beethoven.”

    Further, in Germany and Austria, Bruckner is frequently referred to as “God’s musician.”

    So before you make statements like “I don’t know what ‘spiritual’ means…I don’t think anyone else does either,” perhaps you might want to consider that there are some people who actually have a much greater familiarity with Bruckner’s music than perhaps you do, and it’s that familiarity which leads them to very different experiences than perhaps you have had. I’m sorry if Bruckner’s music hasn’t given you an other-worldly experience, and I hope for your sake that that eventually that happens for you. Because it’s there for those who have open ears, and an open heart. I referenced Schonzeler’s quote about Bruckner because after having been listening to these symphonies continuously for the last 25+ years, and having experienced them quite personally and thought about them deeply, I’m in absolute awe of the man (Schonzeler) for so succinctly saying in one powerful sentence the essence of what makes Bruckner’s music so unique, relevant, and deeply moving.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm

  25. I do insist that BSO is not a good “Bruckner orchestra” and it has nothing to do with BSO respect one conductor or another. The whole notion of musicians “respect” conductors is an absurd that crappy musicians love to bring up to justify anything. Who cares whom they “respect” – those things they can keep for themselves and indulge between themselves in restrooms and lunchrooms. If a bridge collapsed because of mistakes of the bridge architect then you do not care about reasons and do not want to hear a story that the architect was suffering from wearing wrong shoe size during the bridge designing. Build reliable and sustainable bridges, then one can talk about what kind perambulators he or she love to see strolling across that bridge….

    I also disagree with Graf’s take B7. I was there. I have a tape of this performance and I relisted it a few times in past. It was not such interesting interpretation and play in my view. There was no “different modules, thereby illuminating” – it was the same BSO sound circa 1980 version. It was not astonishing and overwhelming but rather banal and not-memorable. It was very much the same play that Concertgebouw demonstrated this week in Carnegie Hall with Bruckner 7 under Mariss Jansons. Mr. Jansons was absolutely clueless what he is playing and Concertgebouw response with the quality of play that was not near acceptable for an orchestra of that magnitude. Saying that I would like to point out that Concertgebouw “might” sound like a Bruckner orchestra and the orcestra was lead by own conductor.

    BTW, neither the horrifying dry Carnegie Hall nor Symphony hall has proper reverberation time to play Bruckner. Dohnanyi shorted each phase and blew each pose, my presumption was that because the Hall was build for Mozart symphonies (juts too short reverberation for Bruckner) but during a close re-listening of the Dohnanyi tape I feel that Dohnanyi’s sequestering of Bruckner Sound was not intentional but rather unfortunately-negligent.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — February 18, 2013 at 2:47 am

  26. Well, perhaps I should explain my objection to your language in more detail. I do not hold Bruckner’s music in the same reverence you do, but I do hold it in high regard, and have certainly been moved by it, and perhaps even transported by it to a higher psychological realm. What I object to is the assertion that it has higher, extra-musical claims, that it connects select initiates to a higher spiritual sphere where mere music is secondary. You understand my comments as derogatory, but I understand yours as denying a higher spiritual nature to all who do not “understand” Bruckner.

    I know that Bruckner is referred to in some quarters as “God’s musician”, but others say the same thing about Bach, or Mozart, or even Palestrina or Ockeghem or Arvo Pärt. This is precisely the problem; it is, in musical matters as in any other, a crude and objectionable argument to say “these are not my preferences but God’s; therefore the matter is no longer under discussion.”

    (Actually I was talking to God the other day and He says it is all nonsense, He really prefers Scarlatti.)

    Comment by SamW — February 18, 2013 at 8:37 am

  27. I’d rather not to ask/discuss those BIG BIG BIG questions, which one himself doesn’t understand very much, not yet to mention to have answers. Having been thinking philosophically for years, I have some ideas. However, for the better use of time and space here, why don’t we argue something tangible (I am not saying those that are not are not important).

    I happened to sit close enough to the BSO players in T5 concert. And noticed that the female concert master was quite loud. It was like she was more than 50% of the V1 volume. I started to wonder if she tried to lead too much. In the Bruckner concert, when the tremolo was called for by the score, the v1 section bow movements were not in accord. Of course, it probably did not matter when the strings were just trembling. But still, the concert master leading too hard would be a problem. Out of curiosity, if I were the conductor, I’d ask them to try both ways, synchronized and scrambled …

    Comment by Thorsten — February 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

  28. perhaps I did not say clear enough. the V1 section is divided.

    V1b2 V1b1 V1b0
    V1a2 V1a1 V1CM

    what I saw was that
    V1a2 != V1a1 != V1CM

    Comment by Thorsten — February 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

  29. BTW, I am really not impressed with that Hans-Hubert Schonzeler quote. there must better ways to describe.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

  30. BTW, talking about Bruckner…. Tomorrow, Feb 19, WHRB (95.3FM), starting at 8 PM will be broadcasting Bernard Haitink leading Concertgebouw with Bruckner 7. This is live-to-tape from European Broadcast Union and it might be interesting. I heard a few live Haitink’s B7’s over German WDR 3 and it was not bad, it was way more stimulating compare the overly edited, controlled can music that they press on CDs.

    Also, Franz Welser-Möst takes Vienna with B4 and unleashes it on March 3 in Carnegie Hole. Mr. Welser-Möst is the conductor that is very capable to do very interesting Bruckner. And if Vienna will be able to make dry Carnegie Hole to sound less anal retentive then it might be a concert worth to attend.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — February 18, 2013 at 7:41 pm

  31. Well, I rather like the Schonzeler quote, since it describes the basic structure of Saint Bonaventure’s “Itinerarium mentis in Deum” (The Soul’s journey into God), which Bruckner likely knew, given his long years with the monks. The journey starts, indeed, with human wretchedness (“poor man in the desert”), ascends up to God and finds “the peace that passeth understanding.” Less esoterically, what Schonzeler describes is simply the basic structure of the Catholic mass: the officiating priest basically ascends to God for all of us and bestows God’s peace on us at the end of the mass before dismissing us.

    (OK, I admit it, I teach at Boston College.)

    Jeremy Eichler, in the Globe, wrote that Dohnanyi “brought us to see the grandeur of the Cathedral, to admire but not to worship.” There is something to be said for respecting the unbeliever.. indeed, this is a very spiritual approach..

    Finally: I ran into Leon Golub, who also attended the concert. What struck him about the Bruckner was that the composer was not “in” the piece. This is illuminating. Maybe there is a very special, and very spiritual “self-forgetting” in B4, which gives it its slightly “unearthly” quality.

    So: yes, Romanov Cat, I will follow your advice and listen to B7 tonight. For all the shortcomings that you all felt, you should know that, to Dohnanyi’s credit, some of us became “hooked” on Bruckner…

    Comment by Ashley — February 19, 2013 at 8:01 am

  32. Ashley, if you are becoming hooked on Bruckner than try to find serious Bruckner performances and do not feel satisfied with that Hollywood version of Bruckner that everyone seems to play. If you contribute some cash to your local feline shelter then knock in my door and I might organize for you a wild Bruckner listening event.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

  33. I just listened to the webstream. The B4 was fussy — ritards at some climactic points just didn’t work for me. The Bruckner 4th at Tanglewood with Masur six or seven years ago was vastly superior, and at that time the BSO brass sounded something like the Chicago SO brass of 30 years ago. This just wasn’t on that level.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — February 19, 2013 at 10:55 am

  34. Mogulmeister writes: “With the exception of #1, Karajan’s performances in these symphonies are universally considered to be the among the very best recordings of each of these symphonies, if not the single best.”

    Not according to my friend, the Bruckner scholar Bill Carragan. I asked him about HvK’s Bruckner some years back and he said there were many other conductors who were much better. He particlarly raved about a live postwar performance of B4 with Klemperer and the Concertgebouw — in the second movement, Klemp has many viola passages played by a single viola, as if it were “Harold in Italy”.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — February 19, 2013 at 11:06 am

  35. Interesting comments all.

    Sam, for what it’s worth, I’m not a believer (nor was Karajan). Yet I still respond to the spirituality of Bruckner’s music. He’s tapped into something very real there, at least to my ears. Yet that which is “real” to me transcends Catholicism, Christianity, and other religions. What I’m saying may not make sense to you, but to me at least, it does. And it moves me beyond words.

    Ashley, I don’t find myself always agreeing with Jeremy Eichler, but I have to say I did on this occasion. He found a far more diplomatic way of saying what I tried to say, that Dohnanyi gave us an earth-bound performance of B4. But I’m sure I’m not the only one who heard B4 the way I did, and certainly Eichler heard it the same way also.

    Don, I agree with you about Masur. I heard Masur conduct B4 at Symphony Hall (he repeated it at Tanglewood that summer). Masur’s B4 was to my ears far superior to Dohnanyi’s. If it didn’t reach the exalted category of “great performance” it was at least an extremely competent one that was hugely enjoyable to hear.\

    Romy, we’ll have to agree to disagree on Graf’s B7. It was to my ears a fantastic performance, and it got right to the essence of the music, and equally as magnificent as Haitink’s incredible B7 with the BSO a few years prior. I didn’t like Graf’s overall tempos (faster than I would have preferred), but he made it work. I’ve never heard anyone delineate the architecture through shifting blocks of sound to the degree that Graf did. Somehow he got the BSO to do that which I’ve heard no one do with any other orchestra to the degree that they did it. It blew me away completely. And while you make many fair comments about the BSO’s playing, they have an ability to every now and then play at a level that you never imagined possible. I’ve heard them do this on multiple occasions, they just don’t do it day-in and day-out. While I know that Richard Dyer panned Ozawa’s performance of B9 (to the point I decided to not go hear it), I happened to be in Boston for the last of the four concerts in that cycle, and on the spur of the moment, decided to go to the Tuesday night performance. I was not expecting what I heard, and was utterly blown away–not just by the interpretation, but even by the EXTRAORDINARY playing of the BSO–you would have thought we were listening to the Vienna Philharmonic that night. They may have had three prior performances to “get it right” and I believe that what Dyer wrote on the Thursday evening performance was accurate, because Dyer’s ear was reliable and it probably was pretty awful. I just think that Seiji got his act together with the orchestra by the fourth time they played the work, and the performance I heard that Tuesday evening was one for the ages. I know I’m not crazy, because unbeknownst to me, someone I met in business a few years afterwards also happened to be at that Tuesday evening concert, and he had the exact same reaction to the B9 performance that I did.

    Don, I know who William Carragan is. I respect that he is a Bruckner scholar, and I have the greatest respect for those who devote their life to real scholarship. He’s welcome to his own opinion about Karajan’s Bruckner, but with all due respect, I disagree with his assertion that “there were many other conductors who were much better.” On any given day, *someone* has done better than Karajan. Giulini’s B9 recorded live with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is an example. Many consider that performance not only the greatest performance of that symphony, but even more so, the greatest symphonic recording ever made (that’s Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s opinion). While that’s a very strong statement (and not without merit), Giulini’s VPO B9 would get my vote as being the greatest performance of B9 that I’ve ever heard (and I’ve heard all the major recordings). Were it not for Giulini’s *definitive* VPO B9 performance/recording, Karajan’s second DG performance from the 1970s (in the boxed set) would get my vote. As I said before, in #2,4,6,8, I think Karajan “owns” those performances. In 5,7,9, he’s at top of the list if not the very top. William Carragan sure may feel otherwise, and I respect that (or anyone else’s opinion who really knows this music). But I would say that if you surveyed 100 “hard-core” Brucknerians and asked who is the greatest single Bruckner conductor of all time, at least 50% of them would choose Karajan. And the other names that would most frequently come up would be Jochum, Furtwangler, and Celibidache. I’m not saying that whatever “the herd” thinks is therefore right, but what I am saying is that anyone who listens to Karajan’s Bruckner is not going to go wrong. To my ears, as a body of work, it is completely unsurpassed (and unsurpassable due to the extraordinary playing of the Berliners), and in absolute terms, many of Karajan’s recordings from the boxed set are the best of that particular symphony.

    I’ve always believed that if conductor X “gets you there” with Bruckner, then that’s all that matters. Exactly *who* conductor X is matters a whole lot less. It’s just that for me, conductor X is more often than not Karajan.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

  36. It’s these types of reviews which leads the public to a place not based in reality. The BSO musicians are in one of the places that they have ever been. If the above reviewer would actually open up his/her ears, it would be very easy to hear that. But unfortunately most people who critique music base their opinions out of a perception of senses which don’t include the ears. The BSO is musically in the best position it has been in, in years. Rushing to get a conductor is about the worst thing this orchestra could do.

    Comment by Tim Genis — February 19, 2013 at 2:46 pm

  37. May I assume that Tim Genis does not include the BMInt reviewer, Cashman Kerr Prince in his characterization and was instead referring to the comment string? After all, Cashman wrote,”Those who stayed were treated to some of the finest moments of the BSO playing that I have heard in recent years…”

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 19, 2013 at 3:10 pm

  38. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for your posting, it’s nice to know that you’re a participant here. You will note that I went out of my way to praise the BSO for their playing in the Bruckner, and it’s really only one specific participant here who feels the orchestra playing is otherwise. In recent years, the orchestra has been playing really, really well. Some evenings they are more “on” than others, but for sure, I thought the playing in the Bruckner was exemplary (even if I thought the interpretation was far from that). That’s a high compliment to the orchestra, because I’m not afraid to say otherwise. But in general, I agree with you, the playing in general has been at a very high level these last few years. And I’m certainly in no rush to see a new MD, I hope they take their time to get the RIGHT next MD. One great concert should not result in the next musical director make. I hope they learned that lesson with Ozawa.

    While I am not a regular participant here, I do post on occasions. I never said anything about the Nelsons/Shostakovich/Tchaikovsky concert, but I thought that was a truly great concert, with the orchestra at its very best. I enjoyed the Verdi Requiem a lot also. Congratulations to the orchestra for lots of great concerts of late.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm

  39. Tim Geni wrote: The BSO is musically in the best position it has been in, in years…
    Tim, for sure we could lower expectations to absurd level and worship BSO just because the players do not fall from the stage. Still if we do it than we need still obey basic principles of reality. BSO did have good beginning of the year with more or less stable play. Then they absolutely melted with Bruckner. No one cares if it was a fault of the conductor, an individual, a section or a group of the sections – it is irrelevant. It was BSO fault – they are as an ensemble demonstrated the play that is very much not suitable for public auditioning. If it was just in-house reading then it would be fine but there is a general expectation that seasoned professionals shall be able to demonstrate more reliable sound. If an ordinary listener sits at the concert and each a few seconds orchestra insults hearing by off the wall play than something is objectively wrong. We could debate the idiosyncrasies of interpretation and what constitutes spirituality from different music for different people but playing music professionally generally implys to deliver some kind of consumable result that would have some sonic integrity. If BSO were a restaurant and would serve to you badly cooked food that would make you sick then it would make you to protest the BSO service, wouldn’t? BSO the orchestra did deliver the Bruckner product that did poison listening experience. If it were Zander’s new children orchestra then it would be fine as they are kids. BSO in contrary consists with the best professional musicians in country, now re-listen the Saturday Bruckner concert and answer to yourself if that play reflects it.

    Comment by Romy the Cat — February 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

  40. Ashley, as I asked Cashman before, (where is the heartbreak in the 2nd movement?!), I could ask similarly where is the suffering humanity? If he specifically said that he was talking about Nr.9, it would certainly makes better sense.

    Here, the topic is a Nr.4 concert and Nr.4 is rather secular among Bruckner’s work. Even in those most religious (relatively) works, 3 5 9, I don’t hear the composer himself, I hear his dedication rather.

    Actually it is easy to explain to Sam this way. When a person (including those w/ religious background) sees a cloud breaking church, the basic understanding of human being intelligence and emotion would tell him that it is a building built for belief. You really don’t have to be an architect to ‘get’ it or a structural engineer to ‘prove’ it. However, if one could not ‘get’ it, either he is not sensitive enough, or he has been studying the bricks and beams too hard for too long.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm

  41. Romy, I’d like to hear Möst.

    On March 2nd, I will be in the city, for my pilgrim to worshipping the great genius R. Wagner, whose most important work Parsifal is to be performed at MET.

    I wish the concert were on the same day…

    Comment by Thorsten — February 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm

  42. Thorsten, if you are in NY on March 2nd ten why do not stay for extra day to hear Möst’s Bruckner? Möst is very good for Bruckner and it will be Vienna Philharmonic not another symphonic orchestra of New Jersey. You can’t get more sexier setting for Bruckner then Möst and Vienna. Of cause I would love it to be not in the sonically ugly Carnegie Hall but in Lübeck Cathedral but it is what it is… Staying in NY was what we did last week: Bruckner 7 on Thursday and opening of Parsifal on Friday…

    BTW, talking about those concert trips.. I wonder if BMI would be interested to organize some kind of group buys for BMI readers/members. How about BMI tickets to Bayreuth or to Lucerne? I would go if no grotesque members of Boston Audio Society are allowed….

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 19, 2013 at 6:53 pm

  43. You mean we grotesques who just did so much labor for a BMint article on good (and less-good) listening options online? You didn’t get the publisher’s note about good manners, did you? And all this gratuitous assaultive snot just because some disagree with your hearing? Man, what kind of supposedly ‘spiritual’ music-lover are you, seriously. Talk about poisoning.

    Must now go listen to Haitink’s B7 to cleanse.

    Comment by David Moran — February 19, 2013 at 8:05 pm

  44. Thorsten: like Cashman Kerr Prince, I was very moved by Radu Lupu’s restraint and felt that the adagio was a “study in heartbreak.” It made me think of Auden: “Mortal, guilty, but to me the entirely beautiful.” What I mean is that Mozart felt thoroughly human, as though brilliance no longer mattered compared to the very simple deep fact that we “live in the flicker.” I felt that Radu Lupu tried to convey: “I am not a performer, a great pianist. I’m much more than that. I a human being who will die very soon. Like Mozart. Like all of you. And I’m not afraid”

    My point about Karajan was simply a sadness, really, that so many young Germans of last century were seduced by narratives about being higher-than-human, when being human is the greatest possible achievement. Heidegger, much like Bruckner, was a simple Catholic country boy — until he fell for the horrible idea of being “superior,” for the idolatry of racialism, and behaved very shabbily. So I thought: Maybe if we hear a very exposed Mozart, unassuming and tender, like the Mozart played by Radu Lupu, this would help us resist malignant dreams of glory. (I put much trust in the power of music to civilize us!)

    Bruckner: I myself did not think of the mass, or of an arch ascending to heaven and a return with peace, I was simply pointing out that the Schonzeler quote captures a very basic Catholic structure, so it is not fanciful, arbitrary. (I took Sam W. to imply that spirituality is very nebulous and hard to define! Not for Bruckner, I promise you.) No, as for myself, I kept thinking of the paintings of Robert Motherwell — probably because of Bruckner’s great thematic blocks, abruptly connected (what you call modular composition, I think.) I also felt, in the last movement, a quiet strength that could perhaps protect Bruckner against the pompous and vulgar mythologies of Wagner.

    In Bruckner’s case, being Catholic was a blessing. Horrid as the Austrian church may have been, it still taught a universal creed in the dignity of all human beings, made in God’s image — had Bruckner left his Catholic faith to become “spiritual” in a Wagnerian sense, this would have been catastrophic. (Remarkably, Tocqueville argued that, in democratic times, we feel very small and helpless. We crave some sort of Great Meaning and easily follow a Leader. Tocqueville believed that the Catholic teaching of human freedom and dignity could strengthen us against fascism.)

    Comment by Ashley — February 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm

  45. I do not think that Bruckner found spirituality hard to define, but that he should have. He expressed what he thought were universal truths, but which were actually personal truths that yearned to be universal; and that is the only kind of meaning “spiritual” can really have.

    Comment by SamW — February 19, 2013 at 9:00 pm

  46. Haitink certainly is urgently moving 7 along now on HRB, not fast, just urging, spiritually or not. Pretty wonderful, but I fear the Scherzo, like all of them tiresomely asking that same question over and over.

    Meanwhile, this:

    http://www.therestisnoise.com/2005/03/halfagainst_bru.html

    Ha, Cyclops and Club World.

    Comment by david moran — February 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm

  47. But Sam, is spirituality primarily cognitive or is it primarily practical?

    Comment by Ashley — February 19, 2013 at 10:07 pm

  48. Ashley wrote: I also felt, in the last movement, a quiet strength that could perhaps protect Bruckner against the pompous and vulgar mythologies of Wagner.

    Ashley, this is very interesting comment. I for a long time did not “get” Wagner. I mean I did respect him and did find his music beautiful but exactly what you said – the pompous and vulgar mythologies, or what I call “Wagnerian white trash metaphors” seriously poisoned my experience with Wagner music. Ironically I discovered that if I listen Wagner in the way HOW I listen Bruckner then I get completely different feelings.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 20, 2013 at 7:05 am

  49. Romy: I really thank you for making the effort of helping me overcome what is, indeed, a deep distaste for Wagner and all things Wagnerian. Alas, after listening to B7 last night, as you recommended, I became a bit de-hooked… While B4 live at Symphony Hall had surprised me with its clear, bold, modernist shapes, B7 last night seemed more bombastic. I liked the organ effects, and the little pastel Mahler-like moments, but the overall effect was much less sober than what I experienced with B4.

    Indeed, after hearing B7, I agree more with Sam W, i.e., I feel that Bruckner ought to have been more capable of putting his own truths in perspective. (But I still think that, if we think of spirituality as being about how our intellect fills itself with beliefs rather than as being about how we use our will to love one another, we become vulnerable to spiritual gurus and charlatans — among which I would include, alas, Wagner.) But I have much to learn and do not despair of growing and changing and expanding my ears…

    Comment by Ashley — February 20, 2013 at 8:39 am

  50. Ashley – I will stand by my insistence that I do not know what the word means; I only have opinions about how it is used. I think the limit I placed on its usefulness applies to both practical and cognitive applications, if I understand your meaning. Of course whether words have inherent meanings that are independent of the uses we put them to is a philosophical question, or a psychological one.

    I wrote the above before reading your follow-up, which both clarifies your meaning to me regarding practical vs. cognitive, and strikes a chord of sympathy concerning Wagner (and certain aspects of Bruckner).

    I have been planning my escape from this argument ever since I first joined it, but new complications keep arising. It’s practically an opera plot.

    Comment by SamW — February 20, 2013 at 9:35 am

  51. Ashley, the feelings that you experienced last night was during B7 over WHRB was absolutely predictable. It was disgusting experience and your reaction is totally reasonable, in fact I had the very same reaction. It was not Haitink or Concertgebouw fault. Concertgebouw did not play particularly well and Haitink played the “concert” version of B7. That never is a good idea but that itself does not produce a revolting reaction to Bruckner. The problem was that the recording that WHRB played was nothing short of poisoning garbage. I do not think that it was WHRB problem, as they do not edit recordings and play whatever they got. I am sure that some kinds of Amsterdamian fool with a diploma of electrician (for sure he is a noble member of some kind Netherlandiam Audio Society) who made the file available for WHRB did killed the sound. I do not want to go into technical aspects with you as you do not need it but trust me (playback-consciousness interaction is my specialty) that there was a LOT in that recording that destroy your (and anybody else) ability to have any communication with that music. If you, Ashley, are still look forward to dive deeper into Bruckner than I was not kidding when I proposed to play Bruckner for you. I have built pretty much a dedicated house to play Bruckner like music and I LOVE to play Bruckner for people. Ask and it will be given to you…

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 20, 2013 at 9:54 am

  52. I know I may sound rude this time again. But in defending Bruckner (or correcting any misconception), I am like a medieval clergy, willing to be burnt on fire.

    There was an old friend, who studied string for some years and developed deep love of Beethoven’s string quartets. He told me op.132 was his favorite and he had listened to it for a few hundreds times. One day, by chance, I said the slow movement was so pious from a patient’s inner voice. He was so suprised and could not believed what I heard. He told me it could not be true because he never felt it that way. Fortunately, I did not have to argue too much. I just told him that he forgot to read the expression note of the 3rd movement… (thx Lord, I never had to read that to understand the Heiliger Music God)

    Here I have huge trouble with ‘quiet strength’ regarding the 4th movement. If you read, it says Bewegt nitch zu schnell, moving but not too fast. From the beginning to end, it was approaching, closer and closer. ‘it’ means that ‘massive thing’. In some long phrases, Bruckner re-depicted the country scene and night serenade. Those usually ended with the massive overwelming sound. so, quiet strength? Perhaps it is universally true for any spiritual strength (then really nothing was said).

    I do have a problem with the program notes in general. They talk about tonality (bC to bB), but that is repeating what is printed in the score. Literally, it is like nothing was said by the writer. I think largely it was due to the difficulty of understanding music.

    Often, I get angery when someone use superficial prejudice to debase the great genius Wagner. Don’t you know that the 3rd movement must have been inspired by Tristan und Isolde? I don’t read as much as other viewers here. Perhaps some authors did mention this.

    Comment by Thorsten — February 20, 2013 at 11:56 am

  53. Thorsten: I wholly agree that Wagner was a musical genius. Maybe, with time, I will be able to turn my very deep prejudice into a superficial one —

    Comment by Ashley — February 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm

  54. I re-listen today at work the B4 from last week. I used the notorious BSO Concert Channel. I would like to point out that the tonal problems of BSO brass are there but much less annoying. If during the concert some low level brass felt like touching of basket of ice in sauna than on the recording it was almost acceptable. That is completely explainable. WCRB offers BSO Concert Channel feed in MP3 encoding at 192 bips. This is relatively low level of quality with high amount of very bad MP3 digital compression. Without going to detail let me to give you an idea what it is.

    They try to make files smaller and transmission to use less bandwidth. Sounds reasonable but the question HOW they do it. The MP3 encoding and decoding implies many ugly postulates inverted by pompoms Morons with pretentious diplomas who soon or later unavoidably formed stupid audio societies. Anyhow, one of many barbaric postulates that MP3 use is that humans when they hear loud signal they do not care about soft signal. So, the MP3 algorithm grabs maximum amplitude of signal across the while bandwidth in any given time and pretty much discards anything that has lower amplitude. Now, pretend that a violin section hit A at 1760Hz at 90dB but horn hit A 3 octaves lower at 220Hz with 65dB. The MP3 algorithm will discard the voice of horn as none-existing. Sure the summing signal will have a contribution of the horn via harmonics, modulations and many other reasons but it will be very much not the same as ears and brain would recognize during live event. So, in case of B4 that I refer to the low level of brass very much “corrected” and become more in tune by virtue of digital compression.

    Comment by Romy The Cat — February 21, 2013 at 7:51 pm

  55. Or perhaps the mikes had better seats than you did?

    Comment by Camilli — February 21, 2013 at 9:35 pm

  56. >> 192 bips … is relatively low level of quality with high amount of very bad MP3 digital compression. Without going to detail let me to give you an idea what it is.
    >> They try to make files smaller and transmission to use less bandwidth. Sounds reasonable but the question HOW they do it. The MP3 encoding and decoding implies many ugly postulates inverted by pompoms Morons with pretentious diplomas who soon or later unavoidably formed stupid audio societies.

    Man, the impugning of good-faith keenly investigating scientists just never stops with you. I now remember where it started, for me anyway, with the ugly shots a year ago at a major thinker and researcher like David Griesinger. And now this.

    Please stick with the spirituality and brass intonation of Bruckner, where your ignorance and opinion are at least arguable, which isn’t the case with scientific audio, where they’re laughable, quite apart from ugly. Audio scientists actually test their engineering work for transparency, and very often they use self-proclaimed supernatural ears of gold like yourself, if they can. Moreover, most audio societies are made up of such, although not in Boston.

    Comment by David Moran — February 21, 2013 at 11:08 pm

  57. I’m not sure many readers are that interested in bit-reduction technology, but following are some notes. Of course with MP3 it’s even nicer to use 256 or 320 kbps or, better, Dolby AAC, which is amazingly transparent. But 128 and 192kbps have been extensively tested, and there are online blind comparisons so anyone can see what’s audible or not. An acquaintance of mine who is expert in this area clarified about 192kbps: ‘The characterization of MP3 as discarding audio is oversimplified and at 192 mostly incorrect. MP3 and other lossy coders calculate a running masking threshold as a function of frequency for each signal block. They adjust the number of bits to give to each frequency band based on the signal-to-mask ratio of each band in the block (note: *not* based on signal amplitude). So just because a spectral component is much lower-level than some other spectral component doesn’t mean it will get fewer bits. A component at 220Hz will not be denied bits by a component at 1760Hz because the latter has almost no masking effect down-frequency. And if the encoder has enough bits, no spectral component will be eliminated; the quantization will just vary with the signal/mask ratio.’ A final note: masking is not something that can be overcome with effort or training or supernatural hearing; it’s like putting your hand behind your back and asking an observer in front of you whether he or she can see that hand now.

    Comment by David Moran — February 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm

  58. Rene Pape is better than many Gurnemanz on CD. This is what I learnt from my pilgram tour.

    Comment by Thorsten — March 3, 2013 at 6:41 pm

  59. I agree with David’s comments: I asked a friend to help me try an experiment, ten years ago: He took a few of the live concert recordings I have made and he encoded them for me at different rates. At about 192kbps I had great difficulty distinguishing that from the originals I knew so well. In two cases at the Union College Memorial Chapel I actually mastered a small orchestra, and also a top-notch pianist on a top-notch Steinway voiced and tuned by a top-notch tech from the Steinway factory, on MiniDisc. Yes, MiniDisc. I could not hear any problems with the audio.

    The problems with the Boston Symphony broadcasts is the apparent stubborn determination of their audio engineer to multimic and close-mic everything, so that the end result is artificial in the extreme.

    P.S.: I’m fed up with Ron della Chiesa de Boston endlessly reciting Rafael Fruhbeck’s full name, and mispronouncing it as Bergos. I heard the WAMC feed of the BSO last night and the tag-team presentation drives me up the freakin’ wall.

    Comment by Don Drewecki — March 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm

  60. >> determination of their audio engineer to multimic and close-mic everything, so that the end result is artificial in the extreme.

    True to an extent, but you do need some spotlighting (imo) with soloists for broadcast. I think the chief broadcast problem is the one many have commented on already: dynamic compression, again which you need some of, but not this much and not of this quality, again imo. (Note that some BSO feeds have little or none; see original BMint article: “… the on-demand and Concert Channel streams are definitely the way to go. These streams have the same dynamics as the master recording” ….)

    Comment by David Moran — March 4, 2013 at 1:44 pm

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