Two takes on demanding Brucker

The Orchestre Métropolitain and the Hallé Orchestra tackle two of Brucker's ambitious and demanding symphonies

Composer: Bruckner
Repertoire: Symphonies Nos 8 & 7 – Adagio
Artists: Orchestre Métropolitain/Nézet-Séguin
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: Atma ACD2 2513

Composer: Bruckner
Repertoire: Bruckner Symphony No.9
Artists: Hallé/Cristian Mandeal Hallé
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: CDHLL 7524

There used to be a dismissive consensus among many Bruckner buffs that no-one should be allowed to conduct the gigantic Eighth Symphony before the age of about 80. While this was always ridiculous, you could at least see where the diehards were coming from: Bruckner’s last completed symphony is a four-movement, 90-minute epic that makes huge demands on its interpreters. Then again, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough – and Canada’s young(ish) Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a Brucknerian of serious quality. Helped here by a large but not-too-boomy church acoustic, the Quebec-based Orchestre Métropolitain responds with playing of tonal splendour, especially from the brass: the drama of Bruckner’s thunderous climaxes comes across as truly exalted, not pseudo-operatic. Nézet-Séguin holds together the Finale’s vast and episodic design, although at a general pace that’s almost broad enough for another slow movement. The Seventh Symphony’s Adagio is taken at something disconcertingly close to snail’s pace – out of context at least, this doesn’t convince. 

The different design of the unfinished Ninth Symphony – two big movements flanking a short Scherzo – is in some ways less demanding to bring off. That said, while fairly extreme shifts of tempo can work in Bruckner’s music, Cristian Mandeal’s choice of these undermines momentum, and the build-up towards the first movement’s mighty conclusion feels underpowered. However, the Scherzo succeeds excellently and the monumental Adagio has the Hallé responding with memorable expressive depth and fullness of tone, in clear and spacious recorded sound.