Review by Gary R. Lemco
Classical Music Guide Forum
Sunday, July 25, 2010
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Ed. Benjamin G. Cohrs) - Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, conductor
RCA 88697542572, 65:39 ****
Recorded 27-29 November 2008, Paavo Järvi’s concert collaboration with his Frankfurt Radio Symphony in the 1894 Bruckner Ninth Symphony stands as sublime testimony to Järvi’s reverence for a reverential score, dedicated as it is to “Dem Lieben Gott.” The romantic chastity of the conception flows as an elixir vitae that infuses the periodic evolution of themes that constitute—perhaps ironically—Bruckner’s “farewell to life” (Abschied vom Leben). Järvi seems to concede the architecture as an imperious arch-form, two monolithic movements surrounding an acerbic, haunted Scherzo. Järvi relishes the dramatic peaks in the first movement, with their tumultuous fff climaxes and strange descents in D-flat major and ascents into an imperious E major for ecstatic visions on a par with Friedrich’s painting of the Wanderer Above the Sea of Mists. Pedals and grand silences mark the progression of martial and bucolic themes, the music often haunted by specters of saints, martyrs, and even satyrs. Järvi could no less be conscious of the tormented drive that Wilhelm Furtwängler applied to this music in his surviving document from 1944. For Järvi, too, urges his players to some elastic transcendent promontory, albeit varied in hue each time we approach the palpitating, ecstatic apex of the ascent: the movement, unsure of its D minor/D major modality, yet looks to some spiritual goal that eludes our grasp, remaining like Salvation, that obscure object of desire.
The Scherzo contains much “progressive” music from Bruckner, the harmonies chromatic and shifting at a rapid pace in what amounts to a totentanz or hexentanz of awesome power. The Frankfurt trumpets have a field day, their punctuations and resounding flourishes a Tuba Mirum in the midst of whirlwind. The trio attempts some consolation by way of flute and oboe—another of Bruckner’s concessions to Schubert and the ländler tradition—but the underlying tumult proves too much to bear, and the mania returns, perhaps a dark vision of Bruckner’s world bereft of faith. The pizzicato over a held pedal increase their fiery tension, the demonic impulse thunders from the low choirs, the tympani insistent enough to tattoo one’s soul.
Despite the Adagio’s eventual evolution into a hymn of praise and spiritual consolation, its E Major vision suffers some digressions en route, since the opening C-natural and A-sharp have no place in the E Major scale, and the subsequent C Major triad plays against A-sharp in the melody. Such inconsistencies or deliberate discordances mark Bruckner as a forerunner of the “crisis of tonality” of the late 19th Century that found one “solution” via Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. The melody element having been grounded, the music canters over plucked strings in something like a folk dance, but its underpinned chromatic harmonies allow for little spiritual complacency. Paavo Järvi, a patient conductor, allows the pregnant pauses and caesuras to linger before a new period to advance towards the “ambiguous glory” that defines Bruckner’s Hosanna. Late in the score, he presents us a chord comprised of seven tones from the chromatic minor scale, certainly a glimpse into something like the maw of Hell. Hadn’t Bruckner himself written that he would be “rattling the gates of heaven”? Perhaps the spirit of defiance derives some measure from the symphony’s resemblance to forms from Beethoven’s own Ninth Symphony. Yet, archaically, many of the chord structures seem intended to embrace Gothic sensibilities, even Renaissance motet-style clusters of sound. At seventeen minutes, the sweetest E major scale emanates from the strings, a moment of Spinoza—that God is the synoptic modality of all things, no matter their seeming contradiction—gives us the solace to go on. The music proceeds, andante, confident in whatever visions of Calvary may appear. The evocation insinuates—then insists—that everything which rises must converge in Faith. ♫