Bruckner: Symphony No 9 (four-movement version) – review

Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle

Bruckner's Ninth Symphony is generally regarded as one of the great musical torsos, alongside other unfinished works such as Mahler's 10th Symphony and Elgar's Third, Mozart's Requiem and operas such as Berg's Lulu, Puccini's Turandot and Busoni's Doktor Faust. The Ninth is regularly performed as a three-movement work, ending with the huge Adagio, or sometimes with Bruckner's Te Deum as a choral finale but, in fact, the material for the fourth movement is almost complete; it's fragmented, but the manuscript sketches require far less editorial intervention to create a continuous whole than either Mahler 10 or Elgar Three.

Over the last half century there have been at least seven completions of the Ninth, several of which have appeared on disc, but the one Simon Rattle has now recorded is the result of almost 30 years work by a quartet of Bruckner scholars led by Nicola Samale; their "conclusive revised edition" runs to 653 bars, of which almost 600 are either fully scored by Bruckner or can be reconstructed from his sketches; just 28 bars had to be composed by the editors, using Bruckner's own material.

Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic played it for the first time in February, and this recording is taken from those performances. Whether you like Rattle's approach or not – and sometimes, in the first movement especially, he pushes the music forward rather than letting it fill its natural space – the result seems authentic. The 22-minute finale encompasses a chorale, a fugue and references to the hymn Christ Ist Erstanden as it steers the tonal structure of a symphony that started in D minor towards a conclusive D major in its coda, in which themes from all four movements as well as the Te Deum are brought together. It's massively affirmative and totally convincing.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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