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Hans the GreatJuly 11 2015
Bernard Michael O'Hanlon
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Knappertsbusch features in many an anecdote.
Having been smoked out of Vienna by Furtwangler in the late 1940s, Karajan was looking for a new stronghold. Bayreuth was targeted (until he was thwarted by the Wagner boys who were never going to hand over the Keys to the Kingdom). For whatever reason, Herbie oversaw the preparations for the 1951 Gotterdammerung even though Kna himself was going to conduct. Having rehearsed one and all, Herbie looked up with longing in his eyes at his older colleague: come on - give me an elephant stamp!
Kna paused and what a pause it was: "Sonny, let me know if you need a reference!"
This Bruckner Seventh from the 1949 Salzburg Festival operates in the same dynamic. Hitherto, I had thought that the greatest Seventh in existence was Herbie's 1976 performance: it's flawless Bruckner: Symphony No. 7. And yet this live Knappertsbusch is its equal in the very least. Galvanised by the audience, Kna is firing on all cylinders and then some more . The Vienna Philharmonic respond in kind. The first movement of the Bruckner Seventh is a pilgrimage in everything but name and here Knappertsbusch is Father Zosima; the self-contained episode before the coda is numinous and the coda itself is a Burning Fiery Furnace. As played here, the Adagio is worthy of its subject. Kna was never one to eschew the cymbal crash and when it comes, it's like a thunderbolt from Zeus. The Bruckner Seventh is often considered to be a front-heavy symphony where the first half is more consequential than the second. Not here: Kna invests the Scherzo and the Finale with a rare significance. I have never heard the coda of the latter played so memorably: oh, to walk on the sun.
The recording is sturdy, atmospheric mono throughout with a strong bass. It struggles somewhat with the climax of the Adagio. Other than that, it is amazingly good.
This is easily one of the best Bruckner Sevenths in existence. Easily. No wonder the audience goes nuts at the end.