It begins like the music for some Arthurian legend, a distant ostinato in the violins, lower strings forging a theme of grand ambitions. Then the big traditional Bruckner tutti, and it's high adventure, timpani like horses' hooves pounding out the violin rhythm, trombones, trumpets and horns in canon - a brassy pageant. It's a wonderful symphony, this; perhaps the unsung masterpiece of the Bruckner oeuvre.
Is this, perhaps, the unsung cycle of recordings? In my book, it's up there with the elite - another view, and a strong one, earthier and more volatile, closer in spirit to Jochum and Furtwangler than to the hieratic Karajan. Barenboim's Berlin horns are not reticent with their brazen summons to the great outdoors in the trio of the Scherzo - that's a tell-tale sign. Tuttis tend to be rowdy, life-affirming. But then, this is Bruckner, the outdoor man, the wanderer.
Even the slow movement, one of his loveliest, is somehow more overt, more romantic than spiritual in tone. The famed Berlin Philharmonic sostenuto really burgeons here, anchored as ever on those fabulous string basses. Barenboim knows how this music goes, and he knows how to let it go: it's a journey whose every twist, turn, and transition he chronicles with a flexible but firm hand. And he has the inner light. Is there more? ES
Welcome back, Roger Norrington! Lovely to hear how these two early symphonies by Weber spring to life at his musical touch, the colours sharp and clear, the expression characterful and quick-witted - especially in the bizarrely Haydnesque end of No 2. Apart from a woodwind squawk near the start of No 2 (heard again, if I'm not mistaken, in the repeat), the refinement of the playing will probably disappoint the anti-period instrument lobby as much as it delighted me.
The Konzertstuck is stronger, more serious stuff, a brilliantly innovative one-movement piano concerto, with a moody slow first section. The fortepiano may not be a taste all music-lovers want to acquire but, once you've got used to its strange, clattery sound, it has plenty of insight to offer in this music, as has Melvyn Tan's quirky, pixie-ish playing. SJ