Bruckner Symphony No. 8 and Symphony No. 9

 

Bruckner Symphony No. 8 and Bruckner Symphony No. 9 concert disc. Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducts the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra. Symphony No. 8 was performed at Suntory Hall, Tokyo in 2010; Symphony No. 9 was perform there in 2009. Released 2010, disc has 5.1 PCM surround sound. Grade: B / D

Western classical symphony orchestras are heirs to 600 years of music experience. The Japanese got started on this art form in earnest about some decades ago when Hideo Saito started his Music School for Children. Now the Japanese are trying to play with the big boys. The Saito Kinen Orchestra doesn't count, because it has too many musicians from the West. But it seems there are maybe 20 western-style orchestras working now in Japan with (pretty much) all-native musicians. The Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo is one of the best of these.

So in 2009 the Yomiuri and Denon teamed up to record the Bruckner 9th Symphony, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski conducting, in HD video. Oh, dear! It just happened that NHK Classical also came out in 2009 with the Bruckner 9th played by the Royal Concertgebouw, Bernard Haitnink conducting, in HD video with 96kHz/24 bit sound. So we had almost simultaneous releases of the Bruckner 9th by two Japanese leaders.

Now comparing the 2009 Yomiuri and the Concertgebouw would be like having a football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the University of Texas Longhorns (a leading college team). A movement by movement comparison of the Yomiuri and the Concertgebouw renditions reveals how far behind the Yomiuri forces were in 2009. The Yomiuri performance was imprecise with rough woodwinds, harsh brass, intonation problems (especially in the horns and Wagner tubas), and fuzziness in the strings playing pizzicato. These deficiencies together with surprisingly dull sound make the Yomiuri report almost painful to listen to. Finally, the video was dull and at times almost "sepia looking." So this title can at best only earn the grade of "D." (If a Western orchestra had turned this out, the grade would have to be "F.")

But now comes the second half or our game. Just 6 months later in 2010, the Yomiuri met again to play the Bruckner 8th Symphony. In 2010 there were a lot of new Japanese faces present, including some we recognize from the Saito Kinen Orchestra. Skrowaczewski is back, looking yet a bit older, but still resolute. Everybody has a second chance at this, and it's obvious from the start that they are better rehearsed and determined to improve over the 2009 disaster. All sections now play with more precision, the horns and Wagner tubas are in tune and sound as one instrument (for the most part), and the sound recording seems better. You can sense the excitement building. The 3rd movement Adagio with strings and 3 harps is gripping---this group has jumped in 6 months from D to B territory and is closing in on an A grade!

After the stirring final movement, you can see the elation on the faces of all the musicians and hear it from the applause of the audience. Skrowaczewski gets called back time and again for more applause---he's 86 but he's running around grinning like a teenager. Folks, when you hear a CD, you don't get any sense of what the performance means to the musicians. But here you see it ---this was an event none of them will forget. So we are happy to give this an enthusiastic B grade.

Sorry, no YouTube clip seems to be available. You can order this title from amazon.co.jp with the ASIN of B00430HKOC, but we don't have a connection ourselves with Amazon in Japan.