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Sometimes I really wish that I had become acquainted with the original 1887 version of the Bruckner Eighth before I became so well acquainted with the Haas and Nowak editions, because I might be able to appreciate Bruckner's first intentions a little more...and, conversely, I might also have an even greater appreciation of where Bruckner went from there with the score. Regardless of all that has been said and written about Bruckner's insecurity; suggestibility to cuts and changes; and obsessive inability to leave some of his scores alone--and the subsequent academic disagreements over his "final intentions"--the final product that Bruckner came up with has got to be one of the greatest editing/revising jobs in music history. Can you imagine sending your latest, and what you believe to be your greatest, creation to a mentor whose opinion you value greatly, only to receive it back with a befuddled reaction from him? Yet, despite Bruckner's well-documented "oversensitivites," he went on to turn it into an even greater masterpiece. How many of us have the insight and fortitude to take a rejected "magnum opus," and turn it into an even greater work? It's somewhat fitting, in a way, that this was the fate that Bruckner's Eighth Symphony faced, for I feel that the running theme of his works is the ability of faith (whether Catholic, like Bruckner's, or otherwise) to overcome all obstacles.
Personally, I am a "Haas man," when it comes to the Eighth, i.e. I prefer the Haas edition to the Nowak. I do not subscribe to the opinion that the Haas is somehow not a valid edition because it incorporates elements from different versions so it represents a score that Bruckner never really laid eyes on. I have been an avid Bruckner fan for nearly 20 years, and yes, like many of us, I got caught up in "the problem of the versions" for awhile...but I eventually got tired of all of that, and now I go mainly by what my ears tell me, and I like the passages that Haas put back into the Adagio and Finale of the Eighth; and when I listen to a recording of the Nowak edition, it sounds like something is missing to me.
I think Tintner makes a great case for the 1887 score, and it is a well-played and well-recorded version to boot. This recording blows Inbal's away. Inbal's first two movements are so fast they sound like a "run through," and even the finale sounds too fast. I have never understood Inbal's approach: in addition to just not sounding "right," the fast tempos don't really allow some of the details, such as the woodwind parts that were left out of the later revisions, to be fully heard. Some of Tintner's tempos are a bit slow, but he lets us hear a lot more details, and ultimately his tempos are convincing. Hats off to Tintner and Naxos for having the courage to release a recording of this "rare" version, in a market flooded with Haas and Nowak.
I am very pleased that Tintner has crowned his cycle with very satisfying accounts of the Eighth and Ninth, especially since I am not really a fan of the rest of his cycle. His Bruckner is too slow and "single tempo" for me. There is a style of Bruckner that I have come to refer to as "New Age Bruckner." This style, which began to emerge not long after the onset of the "digital era" is characterized by uniformly slow, safe, cushy performances, dressed up in the latest plushy digital finery. They are relatively light in the bass, and do not have strong timpani to underpin Bruckner's grand climaxes. Many of them are not without an element of spirituality, and some are actually quite lovely, but they make little attempt to present and overcome the spiritual upheavals that are central to the Bruckner symphonies, and that make the hard-won victories of their finales, and their codas (esp. those of the Fifth and Eighth), all the more satisfying.
Imo, some of the conductors and performances that fall into this "New Age" category are: Chailly's 2,3,5&7-9 (although his 7&9 do have their satisfying moments); Haitink's most recent (VPO) recordings of 4,5,& 8 (athough his earlier 2,6; 1970's 7th; and 1980's 8&9 Concertgebouw recordings are still among my favorites); and Sinopoli's 8&9 (a shame because his 3,4,&7 are still among my favorites). Some of you Karajan bashers may like hearing that, as much as I enjoy most of his full DG cycle, his final recordings of the Seventh and Eighth, as much as I was intitally impressed with the latter, have not worn very well. Even some of Barenboim's Teldec cycle has the ring of "New Age Bruckner" to me, esp. his 2,4,6,&7, which is a little curious considering that his style is generally very much informed by Furtwangler and the "old school" of Bruckner conducting, with it's more flexible tempi, heightened sense of drama, strong underpinning of bass and timpani, etc. (although his BPO Ninth is one of my five favorite out of the nearly 60 that I have, and I also like his Eighth very much). Incidentally, I feel that Barenboim's earlier Chicago cycle on DG is one of the most underrated, as a whole, and in terms of the individual performances, overall exceeding the Teldec BPO cycle, mostly by virtue of the fact that the former's 2,4,6,&7 are all preferable.
Some might put Celibidache's late Bruckner into the same category, but while his late Bruckner recording were slow, some agonizingly so, slow alone doesn't necessarily make it "New Age Bruckner," imo. There were elements of Celibidache's approach to Bruckner that continued to be informed by the "old school," such as the full bass and strong timpani, even as his tempi wandered off into eternity. I feel that part of what was going on with Celibidache, other than the fact that he always "marched to his own drummer," was that he was trying to make the listener hear Bruckner as he heard it in his head, and experienced it in his soul...and sometimes, toward the end of his life, the "Being Celibidache" ride was a bit too slow for many of us.
My early days as a "Brucknerian" were very much influenced by the "New Agers," and in fact, I was not very receptive to the "old school;" but once I heard some of the better Bruckner recordings by conductors like Furwangler, Schuricht, Abendroth, Kabasta, Hausegger, Horenstein, etc., I began to feel like there were elements of their approach that were still valid, and shouldn't be written off as anachronistic. I have, by no means, become stritctly an "old schooler"--hell, one of my favorite Bruckner recordings is still the Giulini VPO Eighth, hardly an "old school" interpretation, despite its strong bass and timpani (btw, has the Vienna Phil ever sounded better, in a recording, than they do on Giulini's Eighth and Ninth?)--but I have come to prefer Bruckner performances that effectively incorporate the old and the new.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings. If you don't already have Tintner's Eighth and Ninth, get 'em, but unless you like your Bruckner slow, approach the rest of the cycle with a bit of caution...but maybe at Naxos prices you can't go wrong; and sometimes you can get them REALLY inexpensively through the marketplace. Once again, Naxos raises the question: if they can produce good recorded performances at reasonable prices, why can't more other labels? Currently it seems like they are the only label keeping the rather stagnant classical music market alive.