So far this live Bruckner 8th under Goodall, a much loved conductor in Britain, has received an outright rave and a dismissal based on audience coughing and orchestral fluffs that in reality are not excessive -- in fact, they are less than I expected, although it was unwise of BBC Legends to retain the audience noises between movements. Goodall's reputation largely rests on his opera conducting, first of Britten operas but more notably later in life when he led Wagner in English for EMI. As with other slow pokes of the podium (Celibidache, Knappertsbusch, the aging Giulini), the effect can be boring or insightful. How to tell the difference? There's no objective standard; our response to music is subjective, and everything depends on how the moment strikes you.
At this moment I don't find myself particularly impatient with Goodall, who has the BBC Sym. in pretty good shape in 1969. That's far enough back that Bruckner, as performed in England and America, at least, was reserved for specialists like Jochum; newspaper critics still aired charges that the composer was eccentric, long-winded or even incompetent. Now opinion has drifted the other way, and we don't regard 80 min. symphonies as being eccentric when in fact, they were by comparison to Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann, et al. When it comes to setting this Eighth next to the great recordings that have arrived in the intervening years, from Karajan and Tennstedt, for example, or looking backward to Furtwangler, I wouldn't say that Goodall soars. His approach is gentler and more lyrical than many others; he tends to smooth out Bruckner's dynamic contrasts.
Yet there is always an appealing flow to his conducting, and despite the absence of high drama, he doesn't let the line sag. The first movement is too soft-grained for my tastes, and the Adagio (taken only slightly slower than the norm) could be expressed more loftily. Goodall holds back in the finale, too, not allowing the great outburst of brass and timpani to really run free. The BBC engineers have done a good job giving us a stereo recording that is full, faithful, and not too boomy in the bottom range -- those timpani thwacks come through sharp and clear. I can easily see why devotees of Goodall would love this performance, even if it didn't fully engage me.
The fillers are by no means negligible. The Prelude to Tristan und Isolde, which comes in even better,more detailed sound, is a bit foursquare and reserved but nobly done. Goodall's Wagner was always notable for its seriousness and affecting sincerity. Even better are the Wessendonck Lieder,sung with absolute mastery by Janet Baker. She has to contend with a bit of sluggishness on the conductor's part -- quite the opposite of her EMI recording under the fast-paced Boult -- but that poses no problem. The performance makes the whole 2-CD set treasurable.