CHRISTOPHER BREUNIG: Bruckner Symphony 8 MAHLER Symphony 6 Concertgebouw Orchestra / Eduard van Beinum Tahra TAH614-615

  • Symphony 8
  • Symphony 6
  • Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum
  • Tahra TAH614-615

You sometimes wonder at the seeming profusion of  immaculate copies of complete sets of 78s from which restoration engineers work. The source for 18 acetates of a Dutch Radio transmission of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony, from April 1955? Eduard van Beinum’s Concertgebouw performance was discovered on a street market stall... It’s the work by which he introduced himself to the public when appointed the orchestra’s second conductor (assistant to Willem Mengelberg) in 1931. And three months after this preserved broadcast he made a Philips LP recording, available on CD only for a short while here, though still available through the internet.

I’ve been rapped over the knuckles by Bruckner experts for preferring the longer Haas Edition, adopted by van Beinum (his Amsterdam successor Haitink too, but not Chailly) over the Nowak; as the Tahra booklet says, you get ten extra bars in the Adagio: 15m 55s. This live account finds more pathos in the score – second section of the scherzo, for example – than in the Philips alternative; but van Beinum was not an ‘interventionist’: he just gives you the score ‘straight’.

He was also part of Holland’s continuing tradition of support for Mahler’s music, admitting in a letter to the composer Vermeulen ‘I had to conduct this symphony [the Sixth] because the score obsessed me. It is perhaps the most personal work Mahler has ever written, leaving out all pretence’. (I like that sting in the tail!) Philips, however, were not than interested in recording it as it already had a live alternative in its catalogue. Van Beinum opts for the Andante placed second: now thought to have been Mahler’s preference, although the 1965 Critical Edition placed it after the scherzo. This again is a very direct account, with a fastish tempo for the opening movement, not unlike Bernstein’s first account.

It is extremely well prepared – contrast the ragged Berlin Philharmonic performance on Testament, with Barbirolli guest conducting. And it conveys admirably the feeling that this was music Mahler had to write. Whilst listening I could not help likening it in my mind to some partly damaged artefact that would delight an archeologist – this relic is all we have; there won’t be an unflawed alternative!

Two tragic symphonies back to back in remarkable readings. In the Mahler the balances become bolder after about 12m, and there is grumbling disc noise present, whereas the Bruckner shows some remarkable fidelity to tone-colour: harps, for example. I strongly recommend this Tahra set.

Christopher Breunig

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