Bruckner: Symphonies Nos 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9 review – glorious performances make a worthy tribute

Andrew Clements
·2-min read

Mariss Jansons died last November. During the final 15 years of his life he was the chief conductor of two of the world’s greatest orchestras, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, based in Munich. In Britain at least we seem to hear him more regularly with the Dutch musicians than with his German band, but there was little to choose between the two in terms of quality and refinement; Jansons seemed to have the rare ability to bring out the very best from any orchestra he conducted.

Though he was always warmly admired, Jansons was sometimes criticised for the narrowness of his repertoire, even though other great conductors – Carlos Kleiber being the most obvious example – established their reputations on a much more limited range of works. But though he did conduct Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, it was in the composers of the late Romantic era, from Brahms to Shostakovich, that Jansons excelled. It’s his performances with the Bavarian orchestra of one of those composers, Bruckner, that make up what’s effectively a memorial tribute, taken from concerts that he conducted in the Munich Gasteig and the Vienna Musikverein (for the Seventh Symphony) between 2005 and 2017; at least three of the recordings – of the Fourth, Seventh and Eighth Symphonies – have appeared on disc before.

As a young man, Jansons worked with two of the 20th-century’s greatest conductors, first with Yevgeny Mravinsky in Leningrad and later with Herbert von Karajan in Berlin, and his approach to Bruckner often seems to bring together elements from both interpreters. His performances are generally less smoothly contoured and cushioned than Karajan’s, though the Bavarian orchestra doesn’t give much away in terms of plush string tone to the sound world Karajan created with the Berlin Philharmonic. And while Jansons is less confrontational in the Eighth and Ninth than Mravinsky, there is certainly no indulgence or lingering in any of the symphonies – at 57 minutes, this performance of the Ninth is one of the quicker versions around – and there is rapturous intensity too, especially in the climaxes of the slow movement of the Eighth, and in the third-movement Adagio of the unfinished Ninth.

Brucknerians will want to know which versions of the more editorially fraught symphonies are performed. Precise editions aren’t identified, but in the Third, Jansons opts for the shortened 1889 version, and in the Fourth he conducts the score from 1878 with the finale from 1880; it’s the 1890 edition of the Eighth, and the “original version”, whatever that is, of the Ninth. Putting such niceties aside, though, these are glorious Bruckner performances, and a worthy tribute to a very fine conductor.