Following his CPO recording with the Tapiola Sinfonietta of Anton Bruckner's Symphony in D minor, "Die Nullte," and the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Mario Venzago presents the Symphony No. 2 in C minor, this time with the Northern Sinfonia. Unlike some contemporary conductors who favor the original 1872 version of this symphony, Venzago performs the more familiar 1877 version, edited by William Carragan. This is the first of Bruckner's symphonies where he expanded the form to an hour duration, and the fertile ideas it contains are appropriate to the greater time frame. Yet this work has never been accepted by audiences in the way most of the later symphonies have, such as the Fourth, Seventh, and Ninth, and the music falters over too many starts and stops, indecisive development, and repetitions. Even so, there is much attractive material here, and Venzago brings it off with a light touch, having the orchestra play delicately and sweetly, almost as if this were a Mendelssohn symphony.
In his final performances with the Lucerne Festival Orchestra in August 2013, Claudio Abbado conducted Anton Bruckner's unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor, and this recording is drawn from the best takes from those concerts. Considering that this rendition came near the end of Abbado's life and stands as a worthy testament to his achievements, it's easy to read too much into the interpretation, and to view it as a mystical or transcendent reading because of the circumstances. On the one hand, Abbado's understanding of this symphony was as thorough as any conductor's, and the Lucerne musicians played with seriousness and dedication, offering a version that has impressive power and expressive depth. On the other hand, there are many competitive recordings that either match Abbado's for strength and feeling, or surpass it in purely technical terms of sound quality and reproduction. Certainly the sound is exceptional, according to Deutsche Grammophon's high standards, and this stereo recording is exceptionally clean and noise-free.
For this 2017 CSO-Resound release, Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra present Anton Bruckner's unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor in a monumental performance that impresses with its marmoreal weight, poignant lyricism, and brutal volatility. Not widely known for his few Bruckner recordings, Muti nonetheless delivers this symphony with the passion and sensitivity of an experienced Brucknerian, and possibly because he hasn't recorded it before, this live rendition of the Ninth seems like an attempt to make up for lost time. Muti's intensity and the orchestra's ferocious power combine to make a memorable reading that may remind listeners of performances by such greats as Günter Wand, Eugen Jochum, and particularly Carlo Maria Giulini, whose recordings of the Ninth are recognized benchmarks. While Muti only performs the three completed movements, and eschews any attempted reconstructions of the surviving Finale sketches, the performance has a genuine feeling of wholeness, and the Adagio particularly has the grandeur and pathos that make it feel like a convincing ending, albeit one that the composer did not intend.