Archive for February 8, 2020

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by telescoper

Last night I once again found myself settling into a seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, this time under the direction of Mihhail Gerts. There was only one item on the menu – the Symphony No. 8 by Anton Bruckner – but what a feast it turned out to be!

Bruckner had a habit of making multiple revisions to his scores, and the Eighth Symphony is no exception to this. There are two major versions (usually referred to as the 1887 and 1890 versions) but also numerous edited variations of these two. For the record last night we heard the edition made by Robert Haas, based mainly on the 1890 version, but replacing some pieces which had been edited out of the 1887, perhaps most notably a quiet passage in the Third (Adagio) Movement.

This is a colossal work, lasting about 90 minutes in performance and requiring a huge orchestra so the stage was very crowded when the concert got under way.

As well as larger than usual string sections, the brass section comprises no less than eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba as well as a quartet of Wagnertuben which you don’t often see in a symphony orchestra. These instruments have a sound somewhere between that of the horns and the trombones and they add an immense solidity to the section that produces a wall of sound that has an extraordinary effect when heard live, especially during the fortissimo passages (of which there are several in this work).

Woodwinds include a bass clarinet and a contrabassoon alongside the more usual clarinets and flutes, and there are three harps and percussion. A special mention must be made of the timpanist (Grahame King) who was given a huge amount to do, and did it all exceptionally well.

The work is structured in four movements, each of which involves a shift from minor to major (the piece opens in C minor) but each covers a very varied musical landscape. The overall atmosphere of the work varies too. At times it is tranquil (or perhaps merely resigned) but it often evokes a sense of conflict and sometimes even terror. It does, however, end in a glorious crescendo that gives a sense of triumph. Along the way there is some truly memorable passages: a gorgeous dialogue between flutes and clarinets in the 2nd Movement (Scherzo) comes to mind, and the Adagio as a whole is just magnificent.

I have never heard this work performed live, and have to admit I got completely lost in the performance. Despite the length of the concert, I never looked at my watch once during the whole thing. Congratulations to Mihhail Gerts and the entire orchestra for taking us on such an epic journey. I enjoyed every second of it, and so I think did the rest of the audience, because the end was greeted with a standing ovation.

But you don’t need to rely on my opinion. You can’t beat live music, but the entire concert is here for you to enjoy as live on the Lyric FM stream. Enjoy!