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CD Review

Anton Bruckner

LPO 71

Symphony #7 "Lyric" in E Major

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski
London Philharmonic LPO-0071 68:56
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Since the early part of the last decade, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has rejuvenated itself. You can readily tell on many of the live recordings from the late 1980s and early 1990s that the present ensemble is a largely superior group. Comparing this release to Tennstedt's effort on the same label is telling. This performance from 2012, while not perfect, simply blows the earlier version out of the water.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski is nothing short of a living legend in this music. My colleague José Luis Bermúdez wrote very favorable things about the conductor's account of the composer's Symphony #3 in our September 2015 update. And many, many critics have spoken at length about the Maestro's lifetime of experience and excellence with this music. I myself raved about his Symphony #9 on Reference Recordings earlier this year. The conductor was pushing 90 at this point (91 by the time he recorded the Third with these forces) but everything sounds fresh and alive.

Tennstedt's reading featured all the things you would expect from a Tennstedt performance, good and bad. Warmth, personality, and a sure sense of structure was regrettably allied with some poor brass playing. Never a disciplinarian, Tennstedt simply lacked the energy at that point in his career to get the results he needed. Most of the time, anyways; his live Mahler Second is a revelation. In both his Bruckner Fourth and Seventh there simply are too many sonic and technical problems to make them recommendable.

Skrowaczewski is another matter altogether. He has the London Philharmonic glowing. The excellent winds and strings remain, with a new degree of tension. They also sing more. What was simply beautiful for Tennstedt is captivating for Skrowaczewski. The brass have certainly improved, with a rich and assertive sound that thankfully stays in tune. The music flows effortlessly and with purpose. I regret that the notes say nothing about the performing edition at hand, especially since in this case we have the conductor's own. Without owning a score, I cannot say for certain what the changes are here, but I remain convinced. I imagine that hard-core Bruckner fans might be miffed, though. Truly, this is exactly how I want to hear this orchestra play Bruckner. The recording is fine, happily not light in the bass or overly resonant. This is a worthy testament to a conductor who lives alone in Minnesota, and then travels the world to do things like this. We are all in his debt.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet