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Bruckner Symphony No. 9


What is it with the number nine? So many composers called it a day with their ninth symphonies, notably Schubert and Mahler.

Bruckner followed suit in 1896, leaving his ninth ‘unfinished’. Having written three monumental movements over the preceding nine years, he never completed the big finale he had envisaged. Although attempts have been made since to reconstruct the last movement for performance, it’s arguable whether this adds anything. The three-movement work is eerily satisfying as it stands and is the version favoured by Bernard Haitink here.

Bruckner doubtless had Beethoven’s ninth in mind, even choosing to write his ninth in the same key of D minor. The first movement, bearing a ‘solemn and mysterious’ indication to the performers, opens with tremolando strings and brooding horn calls, punctuated by timpani and trumpets. The orchestration gradually opens up into something cavernous, in typical Brucknerian fashion. These large scale moments contrast with tense interludes and lyrical outbursts. Clocking in at 27 minutes on this disc, the opening movement nonetheless has remendous momentum.

The symphony’s second movement is a scherzo, but so insistent and cataclysmic in its outer sections that it resembles a storm more than a dance. Beethoven himself took the scherzo way beyond its dance origins and Bruckner pushes the envelope even further; only in the trio does he introduce the requisite sense of lightness.

The ‘concluding’ adagio is like dawn breaking over the orchestra. It is a majestic landscape, sustained by sinuous string writing and burnished lines for the brass, including parts for Wagner tubas. Searingly expressive, it is hard to imagine how Bruckner could have topped this.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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