Things here are slowly settling back to normal, and with that comes the hope that I’ll be able to re-kindle this blog a little bit with the final embers probably already burned out but still kind of a faint orange color. I do have some pure gasoline, though, so I hold on to the dream. By the way, the San Francisco Giants are World Series champs.
Somehow over the last few weeks, someone besides every member of the Giants and the guy who stole our shit has managed to be in my consciousness, and that’s Anton Bruckner. I’ve found myself listening to the symphonies quite a bit recently, although I don’t entirely know why. I can’t say they necessarily provide comfort in a time of stress, and they don’t really jive with baseball. I guess it’s just that they’re really awesome.
Today, for example, I listened to this recording that BBC 3 played on their overnight program a while back. It’s a raucous Symphony no. 6 from 1980 with Eugen Jochum leading the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, easily one of the very best performances of this symphony that I’ve ever encountered. You can say that with Jochum a lot when it comes to Bruckner, actually.
Which got me thinking…
Every conductor has specialties, and by extension weaknesses. Christian Thielemann, for example, is widely respected for his interpretations of Wagner, but had never tackled Mahler until a recent performance of the 8th Symphony that made me wish he had stuck to Wagner, or plumbing, or almost any other profession besides interpreter of Mahler Symphony no. 8. And yet, Thielemann also has a pretty strong Bruckner reputation as well. So does Nikolaus Harnoncourt. So does Kent Nagano. Do they deserve these reputations? I don’t know.
But what I do know is that it seems like there is no shortage of “Bruckner specialists.” I don’t know what it is about Bruckner’s music that has caused this, but it seems like a legitimate phenomenon. This is not to suggest that these conductors are only Bruckner conductors, but it is to suggest that I know of more conductors with strong reputations for conducting Bruckner than any other composer.
Not unlike The Highlander, the God of Abraham, and any number divided by itself, there can be only one, right? Surely in this crowded field, there has to be a best of the bunch, a single force to lead us down the path to Bruckner enlightenment above all others? But who?
I think I know who it isn’t: anyone currently breathing. With respect and apologies to the aforementioned Thielemann, Harnoncourt, and Nagano, and with greater respect and more apologies to Bernard Haitink, Pierre Boulez, Herbert Blomstedt, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, Batman Barenboim, Franz Welser-Moest, and the horribly underrated Donald Runnicles, the best Bruckner interpreter of all-time is probably dead.
If only that narrowed our search significantly. That still leaves an incredibly crowded field: Wilhelm Furtwangler, Sergiu Celibidache, Gunter Wand, Eugen Jochum, Carl Schuricht, Takashi Asahina, Georg Tintner, Herbert von Karajan, Klaus Tennstedt, Otto Klemperer, Eduard van Beinum, and probably more.
So that’s my question to anyone willing to comment. Who is the best Bruckner conductor ever? I’ll think on it myself and give my answer next time, but if you have a thought, shout shout let it all out and tell us who and why.
And listen to that Jochum performance of the Sixth. But don’t let it’s bad ass-ness sway you.