Honeck’s Remarkable Bruckner Ninth

Review by: David Hurwitz

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Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This is an amazing performance, captured in terrific sound. It’s the most savage Bruckner Ninth since Jochum’s Dresden recording on EMI, especially in the terrifying first-movement coda and the positively vicious, swift account of the scherzo. Honeck’s aided by typically exceptional brass playing, with horns, trumpets, and trombones well differentiated in timbre, their musical lines clear in even the densest tuttis. The strings, too, make gorgeous sounds in the first movement’s second-subject “song period,” and throughout the Adagio. In the latter, at that special moment when the chorale suddenly breaks in about halfway through, the effect is truly heavenly (but not a bit saccharine).

Still, what makes this recording so extraordinary is the conducting. Many conductors play Bruckner’s music as a succession of discrete blocks, which of course it is, and that’s certainly a legitimate way to do it. Honeck however, again like Jochum and certain others (Furtwängler, to some degree), employs a wide range of tempo within a movement to join the music’s various sections together; but so seamlessly does the music flow forward, and so skillfully does he manage the transitions, that you’re hardly conscious of them.

The timings are deceptive in this regard: 25 minutes in the first movement, nearly 28 in the Adagio, but I can’t recall a performance that so successfully suspends any feeling of time passing. It just “happens”, in such a way that when each movement stops you might find yourself shocked that the end has arrived, seemingly so punctually. For this reason, while Bruckner fans will certainly have to hear this, I can also recommend this release with equal enthusiasm to those who have hitherto found the composer clunky, sluggish, or dull. There’s an organic unity here that’s very special, and wholly unique.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Jochum (EMI); Haitink I (Philips/Decca)


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