The 9th is the Bruckner symphony most closely associated with Carlo Maria Giulini. John Berky's discography identifies nine different recordings. The concert on this DVD was recorded for television on 20 September 1996 and has been released on CD at least twice before. This is the second release of this performance on DVD and has the very considerable benefit of nearly 60 minutes of rehearsal time (usefully dubbed from the German).
Having the rehearsal footage gives an incredible insight into the nuances of Bruckner interpretation and the level of attention to individual voices within the complex whole of the symphony. It is also a wonderful portrait of the 83-year-old conductor – clearly deeply affected by the music and greatly respected and loved by the orchestra. Completely the opposite of imperious, Giulini's style is very gentle and understated.
The performance is very fine indeed. The first movement is measured. Tension is built successively through the peaks of the movement and then dissolved in the coda. It is clear that Guilini has a firm architectural grip on the symphony and he seems transfixed by the music. The second movement has great drive and vigor and the rehearsal reveals one of the techniques used, as Guilini instructs the strings in the main scherzo theme that the long notes are to be played marcato, with only the dotted notes played staccato. The "before and after" shots in the rehearsal show how this device builds momentum. For Guilini the third movement is the finale – he takes the traditional approach. And he manages to incorporate a chamber-like balance between the instrumental voices into the monumentality of Bruckner's symphonic conception. The rehearsal shows how much work went into getting the balance right between wind and horns.
I do have one reservation. Watching the rehearsal gives great insight into details of the interpretation, but it doesn't help much with understanding the overall structure of his approach. The organization is very disjointed, cutting without warning or explanation from one section of the movement to another. I think that there could have been more editorial guidance besides simply identifying which movement is under discussion. Either that – or reproduce an entire rehearsal.
But even as it is this is a highly recommended DVD. The performance is very much worth the price of admission and the rehearsal certainly deepens appreciation.
Copyright © 2014, José Luis Bermúdez