In the All Music Guide to Classical Music, there is a great quote about Anton Bruckner: ‘the Vienese critic [Max] Graf once wrote that Bruckner "pondered over chords and chord associations as a medieval architect contemplated the original forms of a Gothic cathedral." ‘ I’m not sure I could sum up Bruckner Symphonies better than Max’s words. Despite the reverence, and immense form, Bruckner doesn’t seem to be performed as much as Wagner or Mahler, composers who also wrote lengthy romantic scores. So it was a surprise to see no less than five new recordings of Bruckner’s final symphony, the Symphony No. 9 in d minor, WAB 109 coming out in the next month!
“Half simpleton, half God." - Gustav Mahler on Anton Bruckner from ‘Mahler - a musical physiognomy’
I checked to see what might be “normal” for a Bruckner release, and have found last year (2015) brought about nine new releases of the Ninth; fourteen in 2014, and eleven in 2013. These do include new box sets of all of Bruckner’s symphonies, and some new re-issues, besides new live and recorded performances (but does not count duplicate cds/mp3s of the same conductor/orchestra pairings!) I was also curious as I looked about which conductors had recorded it (and even took some time to sample a few I didn’t know). Daniel Barenboim has recorded it 3 times, with Chicago, Berlin, and the Berlin Staatskapelle. Bernstein recorded it twice with the NY Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic. Gunther Wand recorded it many times with different orchestras, perhaps 4 orchestras in six performances?
I am most delighted by a concert recording of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Mariss Jansons on the orchestra's own RCO label. The spirited reading was just released last month, and for me, might be the real gem in the five latest recordings. It isn't paired with any other works, but certainly leaves the listener satisfied.
My next favorite, for the time being only on dvd and blu-ray, is the Dresden State Orchestra and Christian Thielemann. They are recording all of the Bruckner symphonies. This is also a very passionate and impressive recording. I just wish it were available as a cd or download in addition to the wonderful video.
The other releases do offer other repertoire, or materials with their recordings: The Altomonte Orchestra St. Florian with Remy Ballot has a second disc of Bruckner's Ninth for two pianos; while the Vienna Radio Symphony and Cornelius Meister offer the F minor Mass No. 3 as an additional disc with the Vienna Singakademie. Finally, as part of the 50 cd set, Philips Classics: the Stereo Years, a recording of Bruckner's Ninth is included with conductor Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, originally recorded in 1990. While it is a re-issue, I was amazed to see it in the set along with these other new recordings - not to mention that Haitink released an excellent live recording with the London Symphony in 2014 of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony!
All of this has led to my listening to more Bruckner, and I hope it will lead you that way too!