Compositions: Symphony No 9
Performers: Pittsburg SO/Manfred Honeck
Catalogue Number: Reference Recordings FR733
I found Honeck’s account of Bruckner’s last will and testament, the Ninth Symphony, enthralling. It perfectly captures a mood of angry defiance, worthy of Lear on the “blasted heath” indicating that this seemingly God-fearing Christian did not intend to “go gentle into that good night”. The cataclysmic passages in the outer movements are almost overwhelming but never coarse, and full of nuance and detail. An extreme dynamic range is meticulously applied.
The phrasing and tempos (slower than usual) are totally convincing. It resembles more the implacable granitic sound Klemperer carved out of the New Philharmonia in his own old age, than the super-glamorised legato phrasing and polish Karajan brought (brilliantly) to the score. It also reminded me of just how dramatically different this symphony is from all its predecessors. The traumatised paroxysms of the fortissimo passages are the equal of anything one encounters in Mahler, and the Scherzo, with its perversely fast, streamlined trio section, is surely an example of 20th-century music avant la lettre: it could easily pass for Prokofiev, Bartók or even Mosolov’s Iron Foundry.
The so-called cosmic music of the last movement really does transport us into another realm, like the closing pages of Mahler’s Ninth. The pauses are also longer than usual, allowing us (and the players, no doubt) to take stock. The celestial coda sets the seal on a highly distinguished and insightful reading.