RCA Red Seal has released the first two volumes in a new Bruckner symphony cycle, led by the Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi. Currently acting as Music Director for the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, the pair are also working together on this series. Fresh off a successful cycle of Beethoven's symphonies, Järvi is now turning his attention to a later giant of German symphonic tradition. Although this is the first Bruckner cycle for Järvi, the Frankfurt RSO has already made an acclaimed set under the baton of Elihu Inbal. So although part of the success for these first two entrants in a new series should be attributed to Järvi, he is leading an already seasoned group of Brucknerians.
The Seventh symphony is probably Bruckner's most popular work. And in fact, he had the not-always-common benefit of his symphonies finding popular favor during his lifetime. The Seventh, in particular, puts his musical heart on his sleeve with overt references to Wagner. Bruckner had aligned himself musically in the Wagner and Liszt camp (as opposed to the more traditional Romantic vein espoused by Brahms). With Wagner's imminent death during the writing for the Seventh, Bruckner pays him homage, especially during the expansive Adagio.
Bruckner was notoriously fastidious in his work ethic (as well as in his self-consciousness, which resulted in numerous post-premiere changes to his works), but especially with these later symphonies we see the fruits of his labor really solidifying, and the more confident musical maturity taking a sublime form. The relentlessly rhythmic opening Allegro movement takes a very scenic and thrilling journey before reaching a lush end, and matched with the Adagio account for the bulk of the work. Although frequently performed, the reading here captures a wonderfully balanced take on these disparate elements and makes for a triumphant opening to the series.
Although his final and unfinished symphony, Bruckner's Ninth doesn't really convey much in the way of incompleteness. Part of this is due to his style of composition, which to be honest has more of a "Bruckner" symphonic form than a traditional one. The movements themselves are so long, and the structure so programmatic in feel, that there is always a sense that you could just as easily be listening to collections of symphonic poems. But there is also a more divine and austere feel that runs through this symphony, and adds to Bruckner's intentional homage to Beethoven's Ninth as well.