Day 50: Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (Barenboim)

This evening, as Season 1 Episode 10 of Grimm plays in the background, I am listening to Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (WAB 108), interpreted by Argentine-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (1942-), whom I saw conduct the Staatskapelle Berlin in a performance of Bruckner’s Eighth at Carnegie Hall on January 28th of this year. (I’ll never stop bragging about that. It was one of the highlights of my life.)

NOTE: I have two Barenboim CD box sets for this leg of my Bruckner journey. The first (which I call the “Blue Box”) is on the Warner Classics label. The second (which I call the “Pink Box”) is on the Deutsche Grammophon label. The performances in the Blue Box were recorded in the 1990s. The performances in the Pink Box were recorded much more recently, 2012 and 2010.

So…alpha by conductor, then chronological by years recorded.

That’s the plan.

Because today’s recording comes from the Pink Blox, Barenboim’s orchestra for this performance is the Staatskapelle Berlin. And the music label is Deutsche Grammophon, one of my all-time favorite labels for Classical music.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s First with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 2.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Second with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 7.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Third with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 12.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Fourth with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 18.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Fifth with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 26.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Sixth with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 34.

If you want to know what I thought of Maestro Barenboim’s interpretation of Bruckner’s Seventh with Staatskapelle Berlin (“Pink Box”) in this leg of my journey, visit Day 42.

If you don’t want to know about those previous performances, keep reading about today’s.

I won’t go into great detail, but I do want to point out again that thanks to the information in the “Pink Box” I discovered two things about Daniel Barenboim that I didn’t know before:

1. He started a music label called Peral Music, which bills itself as “For the thinking ear.” It’s a very fine web site, with a lot of music, books, and DVDs featured on it.

2. He’s an author. Once I discovered that, I bought two of his books, one I’ve already started reading called Everything Is Connected: The Power of Music.

And now it’s time for the objective stats about today’s performance:

Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C Minor (WAB 108), composed 1884–1892
Daniel Barenboim conducts
Barenboim used the “original version – Robert Haas edition 1939,” according to the liner notes
Staatskapelle Berlin plays
The symphony clocks in at 77:29
This was recorded in Berlin, Germany, in June of 2010
Barenboim was 68 when he conducted it
Bruckner was 68 when he finished composing it
This recording was released on the Peral Music label (licensed to Deutsche Grammophon)

Bruckner wrote his symphonies in four movements. The time breakdown of this one (Symphony No. 8 in C Minor), from this particular conductor (Barenboim) and this particular orchestra (Staatskapelle Berlin) is as follows:

I. Allegro moderato………………………………………………………………………….14:47
II. Scherzo: Allegro moderato – Trio: Langsam…………………………………………………………………………………………..15:20
III. Adagio: Feierlich langsam; doch nicht shleppend langsam…………………………………………………………………………………………….24:17
III.
IV. Finale: Feierlich, nich schnell……………………………………………………….23:05

Total Time: 77:29

Of the (controversial) Haas edition, its entry on Wikipedia tells us,

Haas edition
Robert Haas published his edition of the Eighth Symphony in 1939. Haas mainly based his work on the 1890 autograph but also included some passages from the 1887 version that were changed or omitted in the 1890 score.

Haas argued that Levi’s comments were a crippling blow to Bruckner’s artistic confidence, even leading him to “entertain suicidal notions”, although Haas had no evidence for this. This led, Haas maintained, to Bruckner’s three-year effort to revise the Eighth Symphony and many of his earlier works. This line of thought supports Haas’ editorial methods. Haas took what he admired from Bruckner’s different versions and rolled them into his own version. He justified the rejection of various features of Bruckner’s 1890 revision on biographical grounds: they are the ideas of a Bruckner who mistrusted his own judgment, and therefore non-Brucknerian.

The most significant omissions that Bruckner made (and therefore of Haas’s restorations) are in the Adagio and Finale of the work. In addition, Haas inserted eight bars into the finale that he appears to have composed himself by combining the harmonies of the 1887 manuscript with material Bruckner penciled into the margin of the 1890 score, discarding five bars of Bruckner’s own music in the process. There were no footnotes or other indication in Haas’s edition that these changes had been made. Korstvedt has described these interventions as “exceed[ing] reasonable limits of scholarly responsibility”. Despite its dubious scholarship Haas’s edition has proved enduringly popular: conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Bernard Haitink and Günter Wand continued to use it even after the Nowak/1890 edition was published, while noted Bruckner conductor Georg Tintner has written that the Haas edition is “the best” version of the symphony and referred to Haas himself as “brilliant”. On the other hand, Eugen Jochum used Haas’s edition for his first recording, made in 1949, before Nowak published his edition, and Nowak’s for his subsequent recordings, while Wilhelm Furtwängler, despite having given the premiere of the Haas score, reverted to the 1892 edition in his final years.

The controversy over the Haas edition centers on the fact that its musical text was a fabrication of the editor and was never approved by Bruckner himself.

Okay. Now, here are the subjective aspects:

My Rating:
Recording quality: 5
Overall musicianship: 5
CD liner notes: 3 (very thin booklet with a sparse essay about Bruckner, the orchestra, and Barenboim translated into English, German, and French)
How does this make me feel: 5

I could listen to the Scherzo (Movement II) on repeat for hours. It’s electrifying. I love the power of the cascading melody.

This is fine performance, essentially the same as the one I saw at Carnegie Hall in January.

The recording quality is 3D – spacious, dynamic, muscular, even – which is odd for Barenboim – somewhat energetic. Flamboyant. One of the criticisms people often levy against Barenboim is that he plays it too safe, that he doesn’t let his orchestra cut loose.

This recording seems to run contrary to that criticism.

The Staatskapelle Berlin seems to be very energetic in this performance. Not out of control. But definitely more enthused than I’ve heard a performance in awhile.

Even the Adagio (Movement III) is incredibly powerful, albeit sublime.

And the Finale…

Wow. Big, brash, energetic, vast, grand…

Lovely horn and pizzicato work that leads to a crescendo of epic proportions.

Seriously. The end of the Finale has to be heard to be believed.

Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin knocked this one out of the park.

I love Bruckner’s Eighth anyway. And this performance is one of the reasons why.

“Huzzah!”

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