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 Favourites, Anton Bruckner

Anton BrucknerBruckner's music has benefitted greatly from improvements in recording technology - his symphonies are extensive and have grown in popularity since the advent of long-playing media. There are numerous excellent accounts of his symphonies - those of Haitink, Barenboim and Solti, to name just three - but I've tried to keep things as varied as I can rather than letting my personal favourite Brucknerians steal the show.

Symphonies

Symphonies Nos. 00 and 0 were both discarded by Bruckner after their composition - the former in fact merely an exercise in form and orchestration, and the latter rejected by Bruckner - a famously perfectionist composer - with the comment 'it doesn't count'. Be that as it may, both have entered the repertoire, and the 'Study' Symphony in particular is a delightful, melodious (if not profound) work that is shown off to great effect by the characterful playing of Marcus Bosch's Aachen Symphony Orchestra.

Available Format: SACD

The late Claudio Abbado shows his mastery of Bruckner in this recording of an electric performance by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Details of instrumentation are brought to the fore and the phrasing is light and graceful, yet Abbado never shies away from the music's more forceful climaxes.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

A relatively light-weight composition compared to the richer fare of some of Bruckner's later symphonies, the Second is nevertheless a heartfelt and at times profound work. Jaap van Zweden and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra bring out the fine detail of the string parts, as well as indulging in an unusually slow - and very effective - tempo for the slow movement.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

A lovely anecdote ties this symphony to Bruckner's lifelong friendship with Richard Wagner; he had long been in awe of the latter's musicianship and showed both his Second and Third symphonies to him to ask what he thought of them. Wagner enthusiastically preferred the Third, and nicknamed Bruckner 'the trumpet' after the opening motif by which he identified it. Marek Janowski's cycle with the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande has been universally praised, and this magisterial account is no exception.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Haitink and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra excel again in this, perhaps the most contrapuntally complex of Bruckner's symphonies, and the most deserving of the oft-repeated comparison to a sonic 'cathedral'. It has often been considered one of his most religious works, and is also the first of the four major-key symphonies that form the middle of Bruckner's symphonic output, representing a conscious shift away from the brooding minor sonority of Nos. 1-3.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Reputedly the only one of Bruckner's symphonies never to be revised or modified by the composer after its completion, the Sixth was not well-understood by critics at the time, and consequently received a poor press. This has held back its popularity to this day, yet it is a cheerful and upbeat work that lacks the earnest solemnity that some have found off-putting in Bruckner's symphonic work. Yannick Nezet-Seguin and his Orchestra Metropolitain bring this side of the symphony out to the full.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Perhaps the most well-known of Bruckner's symphonies, and certainly my personal favourite, the Seventh features at its heart a deeply solemn adagio that is said to have been penned as an elegy for Richard Wagner. Donald Runnicles leads a flowing, natural performance from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra; though this is a long work, under Runnicles it never drags, even when his tempi are slow.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Boulez's reputation as a musical iconoclast might make him an unlikely champion of Bruckner, in particular this lesser-known symphony - but it's a taut, pacy account and Boulez's characteristic ferocity ensures that things are kept moving at a cracking pace, and the Vienna Philharmonic rise to the challenge admirably.

Available Formats: MP3, FLAC

Left unfinished by Bruckner when he died, the Ninth Symphony consists of only three movements; however, like Schubert's Unfinished, it has become a popular work despite this, and in many ways represents a culmination of Bruckner's mature style. This live-recorded performance by the LSO under Haitink has the intensity we've come to expect from them.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

The Bavarian Radio Orchestra are consummate Brucknerians with a pedigree stretching back many decades; coupled with Lorin Maazel's keen eye for detail, this makes for an enthralling symphony cycle. These live concert recordings, all made during the spring of 1999, form a coherent, tightly-unified set that shows Bruckner, the orchestra and the late Maazel each at their best.

Available Formats: 11 CDs, MP3, FLAC

Choral works

The Mass No. 2 in E minor, accompanied by wind instruments alone, is probably the best-known of Bruckner's three settings of the Mass. This disc comprises all three, and the singing from Eugen Jochum's Bavarian Radio Chorus really brings the two lesser-known works to life - the almost Wagnerian No. 1 in D minor and the imposing (and critically successful) No. 3 in F minor, which has often been seen as more of a concert work than a liturgical one.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, FLAC

An early work that precedes much of his formal study in composition, Bruckner's Requiem has always languished in relative obscurity. This is a great shame, as it plainly shows his youthful gift (albeit in a somewhat un-polished form at this stage). Scored for choir and modest orchestral forces (interestingly, including a figured bass - by this time a very archaic feature), it can be regarded as a 'preview' of the subsequent blossoming of Bruckner's full talents. Matthew Best and the Corydon singers sing with conviction - this is a work well worth getting to know.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC

Besides his symphonies, Bruckner's best-known works are his small motets, in particular Locus iste and Christus factus est. This CD provides a good selection of these, all excellently performed by the choir of St Mary's, Edinburgh under Duncan Ferguson. A particular highlight for me were the works featuring brass - the two Aequales for three trombones have a wonderful simplicity to them.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Chamber works

Though not known to most as a chamber composer, Bruckner did write a small number of chamber works in which the unmistakeable style of his symphonies appears in a smaller-scale, more intimate guise. The Fine Arts Quartet live up to their name in these recordings - the sublime adagio from the Quintet in F major is probably my favourite movement from this disc, but the Quartet is equally beautiful; I was left wishing Bruckner had explored his 'chamber side' more!

Available Formats: CD, MP3, FLAC