Writing in the American Record Guide, John McKelvey described the first recording of Kurt Masur conducting the New York Philharmonic (Bruckner Symphony 7) as "smooth in ensemble, precise, tonally ripe, colorful, and refined." Those same virtues may be heard in abundance on this new disc. The accompanying booklet lists the names of all the orchestra's members, and they richly deserve the credit. Thomas Stacey's english horn solo in II will melt even the hardest heart, as will the efforts of all the other principals, especially in I. The warm, burnished tone of the strings also deserves high praise. And like McKelvey, I marvel at Masur's ability to make the traditionally recalcitrant New York Philharmonic sound remarkably like a central European orchestra. Teldec's rich and full recorded sound adds to the splendor of this release. Some occasional audience noise is audible in this live performance of the Symphony, but it's never intrusive or annoying.
Masur's interpretation of this overplayed and over-recorded warhorse is nothing short of amazing. His tempos are relaxed, but the sharpness of the accents and the clarity of the textures make for a bracing effect. His reading of II surpasses even the fabled Talich recording in its serene loveliness and poetic power. And nowhere is Masur's sense of color, phrasing, and balance more evident. Although it is an overused critical cliche, Masur truly left me with the impression that I was hearing this score for the first time. All-in-all this is a New World for the ages, which instantly takes its place as the best available version.
It's not surprising that Masur would choose to follow his lyrical interpretation of this great symphony with one of the most lyrical and mellow of the Slavonic Dances – Op. 72:2. The result is magical. His performance of Op. 46:6 is good-natured and jovial, with a marvelously witty ending. The lively Op. 46:8 is a perfect conclusion to an unforgettable hour. My only regret is that Masur and Teldec didn't give us two or three more of the Slavonic Dances. The host of the distinguished Record Shelf series on public radio, Jim Svejda, supplied an excellent booklet essay which helps to enhance the enjoyment of this music.
Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide