Some composers are worldwide, others are a bit more regional. Brahms is in the former category, but Bruckner seems to be in the latter.
On Saturday, I listened to a concert (G) of Brahms and Bruckner works for chorus and orchestra on DeutschlandRadio Kultur. The interviewer asked Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe how the extremely Austrian Bruckner was received in Belgium and Amsterdam.
In the big cities, no problem, Herreweghe said. However, in places like Brugge, he noted a bit of skepticism. The Brahms works (Alto Rhapsody and Schicksalslied) they knew well, but Bruckner’s F-minor Mass was a bit new. Nevertheless, the initial distrust evaporated during the concert, and everyone recognized Bruckner’s shaggy, sprawling paroxysm of Catholic fervency for the locomotive-like masterpiece it is.
Before we go pointing fingers at those Belgians, let us not forget that German concert programs have lacunae as well. May I bitch about the informal Sibelius ban? Jean Sibelius is cruelly neglected here, apparently because Adorno hated (G) the glorious Finn (one of Adorno’s many questionable musical opinions). As an obsessive Sibeliusphile (I even spent 20 Euros in Slovenia to buy an out-of-print CD of Neeme Jaervi conducting Sibelius’ stage music (G) to ‘Scaramouche’), I say German concert programs have far too much Shostakovich, and far too little Sibelius. In this one respect, I say: ‘Fuck Adorno’.
But I digress.
Back to Bruckner. As far as I know, Herreweghe is relatively new to Romantic terrain. He’s better-known for his Bach recordings, done almost exclusively with the Collegium Vocale and a group of trusted soloists. These are all fine recordings, especially the B Minor Mass (my favorite recording of the 8 or so I own) and the almost as wonderful pairing of the Oster-Oratorium and the cantata ‘Erfreut Euch, Ihr Herzen.’ Both CDs I’d kill for, if I didn’t already own them.
For the Brahms and Bruckner, Herreweghe played with the Orchestre de Champs d’Elysees, which uses authentic instruments and 19th-century performance practice. I found the result magical. Bruckner can get kind of cloudy and bombastic in the wrong hands, and even in the right hands it’s the reddest of orchestral red meat. Herreweghe trimmed the bombast and kept the tempos crisp. The 19th-century horns are much quieter than their modern counterparts. This keeps the texture much more transparent than one usually hears in this music. I hope these concerts are being recorded, because I heard some brand-new Bruckner that I’d like to hear again.
Plus, Herreweghe’s Dutch-accented German was extremely amusing during the mid-concert interview.