Manual transmission

Bruckner: Symphony no. 8
Mozart: Symphony no. 38 “Prague”

Staatskapelle Dresden
Bernard Haitink, conductor
Profil PH 07057

Travelling music in the official Soho the Dog 1999 Honda Civic as of late have been these excellent CDs, recorded live in 2002. We’ve been blasting this thing all week, to and from the store, to and from work, to and from various parcels of conservation land—today it was even warm enough to roll down the window and serenade the environs. Critic-at-Large Moe, it turns out, loves the stuff, as it seems to call forth ancestral memories of Medieval hunts, inspiring an unusually regal mien.

Noble mobile Brucknerian Moe.

What I like about this recording is that Haitink and the orchestra know when to just let the music sit there, a crucial part of successful Bruckner performance. There’s no getting around that much of Bruckner’s symphonies consist in large part of big, static chunks of music. Beethoven has his moments like this, of course, but Bruckner goes all out—where Beethoven uses Legos, Bruckner builds symphonies out of Duplo blocks. It is, I think, one of the things that people who don’t like Bruckner’s music don’t like about it. But if you try and massage that aspect of the music, you usually end up with a counterproductive see-saw. Haitink and the band build up a good head of steam, polish the balance, and then just let Anton be Anton.

Even more than Messaien, I think, Bruckner is the one composer whose music always immediately gives away his organist identity. Not just in the orchestration, although you can almost hear him pulling the stops every time he gears up for a big crescendo—8′ strings, add 4′ winds, start tossing in reed stops (trumpets and horns), a 32′ on the pedal, and finally mixtures of the higher winds. It’s that modular construction, letting a particular texture sound for a span of time, changing dynamic by changing forces instead of individual volume. (When Bruckner does subito dynamic effects, it’s usually by changing instrumental choirs, like shifting to a different manual.)

The “Prague” is a better pairing that one might think—the connecting thread being Bruckner’s hammered articulations in the 8th’s finale (an unusually pianistic texture for him) which nicely sets up Mozart’s motoric Classicism. The performance is dangerously energetic—it’s usually encouraging me to speed. I need to swap it out for something more serene.


  1. Matt:<><>If you want a disc that will force you to slow down, try the Delius Naxos disc; it has regulars like the “Florida Suite” and “Over the Hills and Far Away”, but it also has a startlingly beautiful (even for Delius) piece I’d never heard before, “La Quadroone.” The number is 8.553535.

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