Anton Bruckner – Symphony no. 7
Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor
RCA, 2008 (2010)
«I think, if Beethoven were still alive today, and I went to him, showed him my Seventh Symphony and said to him, “Don’t you think, Herr von Beethoven, that the Seventh isn’t as bad as certain people make it out to be – those people who make an example of it and portray me as an idiot” then, maybe, Beethoven might take me by the hand and say, “My dear Bruckner, don’t bother yourself about it. It was no better for me, and the same gentlemen who use me as a stick to beat you with still don’t really understand my last quartets, however much they may pretend to”».
These words by Anton Bruckner have been handed down to posterity by his pupil Carl Hrubý and reveal that the Austrian composer has assimilated and then consciously went beyond the innovations of the late Beethoven in his Symphony no. 7 in E major, the work that more than anything else has assured success to its creator during his lifetime after many failures and ostracisms due primarily to his closeness to Richard Wagner.
Bruckner composed the Seventh Symphony between 1881 and 1883 and revised it in 1885. The composition of the Adagio was influenced by the news of Wagner’s death that induced Bruckner to add a «funeral march» in memory of his late colleague. Incidentally, Wagner’s death inspired also the finishing of the Te Deum and a programmatic connection between the sacred work and the symphony is indicated by the derivation of the “non confundar” in the Te Deum from a passage in the Adagio.
The symphony was dedicated to King Ludwig II of Bavaria thanks to Hermann Levi, one of Bruckner’s most passionate supporters and the conductor of the Munich premiere in 1885. The world premiere was given in Leipzig on 30 December 1884 under Arthur Nikisch’s conduction and was revived – apart from Munich – in Vienna, a city that bestowed great honours upon Bruckner only after the performance of this symphony, and in Karlsruhe at Franz Liszt’s request.
Conductor Paavo Jarvi’s reading of the symphony is fluent and unstrained, not at all hurried, so that the mystic and naturalistic elements that are fundamental in Bruckner’s music have all the time to develop and to reveal themselves in their completeness. The conductor has perfectly understood the composer’s lyrical intentions and gives to the symphony the character of a quiet, thoughtful reflection, introduced by the tremolo of the strings that opens the first movement (Allegro moderato), which is performed with intensity but nonetheless with quietness that accompanies the listener to the next theme, a little rustic but far more brighter, although the brightness is always subject to a clear and delicate control.
The famous Adagio, the piece devoted to Wagner’s memory and the one that really ensured Bruckner’s fame spread throughout Europe, is perfectly balanced between the gloomy Wagner tubas (used here for the first time) in the first part of the movement and the warm sound of the strings that predominates later. The Adagio has a confidential character, although it does not seem a confession and is more similar to a friendly conversation, an open expression of the frailty and of the sweet melancholy that upset a soul. This movement has a sweetness that will be rare to find elsewhere in the work.
The third movement (Scherzo) has a more dynamic, I would like to say “vital”, character after the contemplative pause of the Adagio and Järvi conducts it with a kind of boldness that is echoed by the brasses, while the middle section is reserved to the expression of gentler feelings and to the merry accents of the Ländler. The last movement seems to combine the idyllic and the vivacious elements that appeared in the course of the symphony and the interaction of the strings with woodwinds and brasses describes a refined representation, interrupter or better advanced by the pressing middle section that in the end brings back to the initial theme of the symphony.
This album is definitely a wonderful, inspired and elaborate performance of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony and it will not disappoint anyone – devotee or curious – that will listen to it.