United Kingdom Bruckner: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano), Robin Tritschler (tenor), Alexander Tsymbalyuk (bass), London Symphony Chorus (chorus director: Mariana Rosas), London Symphony Orchestra / Nathalie Stutzmann (conductor). Barbican Hall, London, 11.2.2024. (JR)
Bruckner – Symphony No.9 (ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, Urtext Edition); Te Deum (ed. Ernst Hettrich 2015, Carus Edition)
Bruckner’s Ninth looks set to remain one of the great might-have-beens of music. Bruckner knew that ninth symphonies were cursed or jinxed, destined to be a composer’s last and that the composer might die either whilst writing it or before completing a tenth. Mahler, Beethoven, Schubert, Schnittke, Dvořák, Glazunov, Matthew Arnold and Vaughan Williams all succumbed, to name just some of the better known.
Bruckner left sketches for the last movement of his final symphony and some brave souls have composed a Finale from those sketches; Simon Rattle has recorded the Samale-Mazzuca-Phillips-Cohrs version. In his dying days, Bruckner suggested that his Te Deum might make a fitting close to this last symphony: I shall come on to that later in my review.
Nathalie Stutzmann’s take on Bruckner is idiosyncratic to the point where she moulds almost each note and she makes no apologies for that. Not everyone likes Bruckner, and not every Bruckner-lover will take to such an ultra-sculpted interpretation. There will plenty of opportunities in this Bruckner anniversary year to hear simpler, plainer versions of his great symphonies where the conductors maintain a steady beat and allow the music to speak for itself – Paavo Järvi and Manfred Honeck are already in my diary.
At times Stutzmann is virile to the point of deafening fortissimos, at other times less significant notes and phrases are highlighted, all at the expense of the overall structure. On balance, however, this was a more satisfying performance than her interpretation of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony which I attended a few days ago (review here). Stutzmann certainly maintained a steady pulse in the Scherzo and the final dissonance in the Adagio was perfectly executed. The London Symphony Orchestra played with utter refinement and a touch of class.
The four soloists came on to the stage before the Adagio so that Stutzmann could launch straight into the Te Deum, otherwise I fear many who knew the three-movement symphony – but had not read the programme – might have started premature applause. The London Symphony Chorus were made to sit through the entire symphony before their big moment. The chorus should have been asked to stand well before their first note not just as they sang it; it looked as though the start took them by surprise too.
For the intensely pious Roman Catholic Bruckner, his choral-orchestral Te Deum was the pride of his life. Its opening is awe-inspiring, a slab of sound which we often encounter in his symphonies. Many consider, however, that the Te Deum is a misguided ending to his unfinished Ninth Symphony, despite the composer’s own utterings. I thought Stutzmann made quite a convincing case, even though the Te Deum is so monumental than it rather eclipsed what preceded it.
Christina Nilsson was indisposed so in stepped the indispensable Lucy Crowe (a recent recipient of a well-deserved OBE). The tenor has a major part to play in the work and Irish tenor Robin Tritschler was most impressive, the tessitura suited his timbre. The mezzo-soprano has hardly any exposure, so having Anna Stéphany add the low female line in the quartets was a luxury. The bass only has a short solo: Ukranian Alexander Tsymbalyuk seemed to have stepped straight out of Boris Godunov, I found his voice too dark. Leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore (Russian-Dutch conductor Lev Markiz was his grandfather) played the sweetest of accompaniments to the tenor solo. The greatest accolade must go the members of the London Symphony Chorus trained by the marvellous Mariana Rosas. The chorus were an absolute glory to hear, the high notes of the sopranos were thrilling; all sections played their impressive part. They sounded as though they enjoyed the work itself (as we all did) and enjoyed the vocal workout that it afforded them. Rightly, they garnered the greatest share of the final applause.
The concert was broadcast live on medici.tv.