June 1, 2010
Paavo Jarvi is music director of the orchestra down the road in Cincinnati (through next season, that is), but he also leads the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (on Sony Masterworks) in a continuing cycle of symphonies by Anton Bruckner, the 19th-century Austrian master whose breadth of symphonic vision is an acquired taste for many music lovers. Yet minimalism and especially its “spiritual” outgrowths (as in the music of Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki) have accustomed us to stretching our ears to take in an expansive pacing of musical incident.
Bruckner’s massive sonorities are relieved by passages of Schubertian delicacy, and his music’s indications of knowing with certainty where his spiritual home was provide an instructive contrast to the anxieties of his younger contemporary (with whom he’s often bracketed) Gustav Mahler.
The recordings under brief review here are Symphony No. 7 in E major and unfinished Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Jarvi may not have a virtuoso orchestra to work with in this music, but he certainly has a disciplined one. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra has consistent clarity of sound, and Jarvi has imparted to it unfussy phrasing and dynamics. This directness may entail some sacrifice of melodic “bloom,” but the interpretive approach here makes the long stretches characteristic of Bruckner pass logically and almost effortlessly for the listener.
You get a sense of the firm embrace of the composer’s whole concept from beginning to end. And you feel that you’re in the hands of an interpreter who is not concerned about carrying you into an otherworldly realm; he feels the hints of something beyond are complete and self-evident in the score. Surprisingly, that’s enough. It’s refreshing not to be nudged into mystical territory, but to let passionate but unforced recorded performances of these works achieve the magic that’s in them.