You can find a wealth of links on classical music, repertory, bios of composers and conductors, etc. Try Google to start.
Bruckner was the late 19th century bridge between the symphonies of Schubert and Mahler. A virtuoso organist, he taught at the Vienna conservatory and was an acolyte of Wagner although his heavily orchestrated music is very different from Wagner. A devout Catholic, he wrestles with faith but always emerges triumphant and deeply inspired. My favorites are Symphonies #5 and #7. There are so many great recordings that it's hard to choose but I would definitely investigate the recordings of Furtwangler with Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic although dated, mono and not the greatest sound, the interpretations are legendary.
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If you're just getting into Bruckner, I suggest you try his most popular symphony, the 4th, also known as the "Romantic." And after that, try his 7th Symphony.
There are so many great versions of each that it's hard to know where to begin. One inexpensive way is to get the recordings on Naxos, conducted by Georg Tintner. They're not "audiophile" recordings, but they sound quite good, and they are fine readings by a conductor (alas, recently deceased) who felt Bruckner in his soul. (These are, by the way, favorites of the Stereophile writer, Sam Tellig.) You can buy all nine symphonies (plus the "00" and "0" symphonies) in a cheap Naxos boxed set, or get them individually.
If you crave a heaven-storing interpretation of the 4th, try the one on DG conducted by Herbert Von Karajan -- the Berlin Philharmonic brass will take your breath away. If you want a more genial and "folksy" version, try Karl Bohm's, on Decca.
You can also check the recommendations made by Gramophone, the respected British magazine that reviews classical music. Go to http://www.gramophone.co.uk/. In the navigation bar on the left of the page, put your cursor on "Reviews," then link to "Recommended Recordings."
Go ahead and try and find the Karajan DG 2 CD of Bruckner's 8th Symphony - just imagine the symphony to be the musical equivalent of a novel. Bruckner's symphonies/novels tend to be long and dense, with lots of dynamic range and extremes (pianissimos to fortissimos, slow to fast). Someone else you may enjoy is Gustav Mahler, whose symphonies are even longer! Check out your local library; check out your local used CD music stores... good luck!
I agree the 4th Symphony is a good place to start with Bruckner.
Then the 7th as well. For the 7th three good choices (all on Deutche Grammophon) are;
Vienna Phil/Von Karajan, DG 429 226-2
Vienna Phil/Giulini, DG 419 627-2
Berlin/Jochum; DG 429 079-2
For the 8th, I also agree with the 2CD set of the 1989 Von Karajan recording with the Vienna Phil.
You might want to try Chailly RSO for the complete Bruckner symphonies. Also, I agree with all who vote Karajan, especially for Bruckner's eight. To continue your "education", work your way into the symphonies of Mahler, Shostakovich, Schubert, and (opera) Wagner's Ring cycle.
For the 9th, it is no contest. FURTWANGLER! He captures the mysticism and monumental spiritual development inherent in the piece. You want to talk about sound? Listen to the magical sound Furtwangler elicits from the Berlin Phil.
Furtie is the choice to go for most of the Bruckner's symphonies...also, you won't be dissapointed with Celibidache and my latest discovery Kabasta...these 3 are probably the conductors that understood Bruckner and the performances are nothing short of magic!...if you can't find these CD's, Jochum is decent and a very nice surprise was Tintner...
Oh...For a 9th, skip Von Karajan newer recording and look for his recording of the 9th from 1966.
Finally, for another view of the 9th & 4th, try Celibidache (on EMI I think).
When Furtwangler performed his debut in 1906, Bruckner Symphony No. 9 was the programme. Also he was the president of the German Bruckner Society at his time. Both facts explain the weight of Bruckner's music in his career. The president position was succeeded by Jochum. For me the interpretations of these two conductors are essential to Bruckner's music.
But here I would like to add another great conductor - Hans Knappertsbusch. Try his interpretation of Bruckner's music, it is very different from Furtwangler's. It provides me more subtle vision into the "boundless" which was slightly carried by Celibidache.
True Otto, Knappertsbusch was also wonderful in Wagner. A modern conductor who understood bruckner especially live was klaus tennstedt. He also carried on the spirit of bruckner.
Is there a good-sounding digital or analog transfer, that is also a great interpretation of the 7th, 8th and 9th? I'm sorry, but I don't agree with the Karajan recommendations. I have the VPO 8th, and I fail to see why it has been so highly rated. I heard his last 7th, and wasn't impressed either.
As much as I appreciate some of the classic performances, I have gotten to the point in my listening and system where I want to hear good sound.
If recorded sound is your 1st priority you probably can't do better than Skrowaczwesi on Reference Recordings or Lopez-Cobos on Telarc for the 9th, or Lopez-Cobos on Telarc for the 8th. These are, sound wise, about as good as it gets. I don't have any sound only rec's for the 7th, but I do enjoy Guilini's version on DG.
Which is the better performance and orchestra, Ref. Record. or Telarc? Is Giulini's a newer digital DG? Some of the DGs are not very good sonically, congested and tunnel-like.
I'd vote for Lobez-Cobos but both performances are, in fact, very good. Re Guilini, i mentioned this only in passing as it is a somewhat more eclectic performance, very beautiful and broad. As to sound I only have it on LP and cannot comment on the CD. On LP it was quite nice. While i have not heard it i have heard that the Harnnoncourt performance on Teldec is quite nice. You might check your local library to see if they have these for you to listen to w/out risk.
Agreed Saxo, always have found Karajan to miss the boat completely. I guess the orderliness and smoothness might appeal to some, but at what expense??? Everything he did sounds the same to me. Static, lifeless.
The concertmaster of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra served during Furtwangler's and Karajan's eras once recollected Karajan's rehearsal as following:
"To fast, to slow, to loud, to quite, to early and to late" That's only six words we can hear from him.
Not exactly word-by-word translation but the main idea is captured here for your reference.
Back to the main topic. Since Giulini's performance (DGG - 427 345-2, recorded in 1988 with Wiener Philharmoniker) is mentioned here, should we not miss Sinopoli's reading? It is very lyric, profound performances.
Also long forgotten Schuricht, Abendroth, Konwitschny and Klemperer, just to name a few. There is also a rare recording done by Mravinsky.
Again, happy listening!
I have to eat my words. I pulled out my copy and listened to the Karajan 8th with VPO, and it is an epic performance. It is on the slow side, but so dramatic, sensitive, and full or color, that it is an interpretation for the ages. The VPO plays splendidly, and the recording, while not of demonstration quality, is quite good, except a little bass light and with some of the DG house sound in the sheen of the strings that can turn a little aggressive at fortissimos.
If you know and love this symphony, you really owe it to yourself to listen to this masterpiece of a performance of a truly epic work that has earned its place in the highest echelon of giant symphonic literature of the Romantic period.
Otto, the Mravinsky version is enjoyable.
Saxo, you must get a copy of Jascha Horenstein/LSO Bruckner #8 to hear a true masterpiece of a performance. HvK pales in comparison. My copy is on intaglio label, which may be hard to find, unfortunately. Another great Bruckner recording by Horenstein is #5 with BBC Symphony Orchestra on Descant.
For a complete set, Jochum is very good. He has 2 complete sets and I slightly prefer the Dresden Staatskapelle but go with whichever is cheaper; performances are that close.
Might as well weigh in on this also (a bit late but always room for more impressions). JHOLD at the begining makes good point, it is always dangerous/foolish to recommend complete set by one conductor but the complete Tintner/Naxos set at bargain price is great place to start any Bruckner collection.
The Naxos sound is actually very good and often surpasses the big labels. The orchestras are 2nd tier but play with such inspiration/passion they make up for any lack of virtuosity compared to BPO, VPO etc. Not saying every performance is great but Tintner offers many insights that elude other conductors and this would actually be my 1st choice for complete Bruckner set regardless of price.
Some of the early symphonies of the Tintner series would actually be 1st choices of any version available.
The Karajan/DG/VPO Bruckner 8 is a great performance, this is a yardstick by which other performances will be measured.......a true "cathedral" of sound.
As to the original question what Bruckner 9th to get, I would go with Karajan/DG Galleria at mid price although again the Tintner/Naxos at budget price is very competitive.......don't care for the Walter version the critics all like.
For the absolute Brucknerian, there is but one conductor, Celibidache. Discovering the maestro in 1983, my understanding and reverence of Bruckner changed completely and forever. Try the EMI recording of the 9th. But remember, this is recommended only for the seasoned Brucknerian.
I picked up a great Bruckner 2CD set recently: Horenstein/BBC Legends Symphony 8/9. Live stereo version form @1970, sound is very good and performance is both reverant and elctrifying. The 9th may be best I have ever heard overall and 8th is in the top 3......although I disagree with your view on Karajan/DG/VPO and I must rank also in top three versions although slightly more relaxed spritual performance than Horenstein.http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?name_id1=56293&name_role1=3&name_id2=1598&name_role2=1&comp_id=9886&genre=66&bcorder=1953&album_id=12453
Agree with you also on live Horenstein/BBC Legends Symphony 5 CD, another excellent Horenstein performance very competitive with Sinopoli/DG version for best available.
Agree with you also on Jochum sets especially for symphonies 4-9 which are consistently very good, I slightly prefer his newer EMI set in most cases.