So far as I know, this is the first recording from the Staatskapelle Dresden and their new music director, recorded at a guest appearance in Sept. 2009 (the former music director, Fabio Luisi, wasn't renewed, while in Munich, where Thielemann headed the Philharmonic, his departure was just as abrupt; it was his choice, however). this is the Bruckner Eighth in the Haas edition taking up two full-priced discs. To find a market at that price, it would have to be very special. The opening bars aren't especially promising. The pace is steady, the balances good, but there's a certain pedestrian quality that belies the glowing reviews circulated by Profil in support of this set.
Steadily, however, one detects special qualities in the blend of the orchestra (which has a distinctive sound in concert that is hardly ever caught on CD; this one being not especially notable so far as recorded sound goes); on my system there's a certain amount of glare in upper strings and high brass at loud volume. Thielemann keeps going his steady way. Being an avowed traditionalist, perhaps Thielemann is harking back to Knappertsbusch's rock-solid steadiness. If so, I am not entirely happy to remember those good old days. My impression of slowness, however, is belied by the actual timings, 15 min. for both the first movement and Scherzo, which is actually a minute faster than Karajan (his last, illustrious recording with the Vienna Phil. on DG) or Harnoncourt. Even so, the Scherzo in Thielemann's hands has not much lift off, despite his attention to detail and molding of phrases.
The sublime Adagio is one of the crowning glories of the nine symphonies, and it delivers its deepest emotions at a slow pace, exactly what Thielemann chooses here (the timing is 27 min.). He made his reputation as a young conductor by drastically slowing down the Schumann symphonies, and although that phase seems to be past, Thielemann is most at home when he can sculpt an ensemble lovingly and at leisure. I've heard the Adagio with more spine, but this version doesn't sag -- the long line sweeps upward and holds its shape in a continuous arc. The resuslt is engrossing and moving.
The explosive finale could benefit from better sound -- it's a bit rough and ready here -- yet Thielemann holds sway impressively. He doesn't create the stark contrasts that Karajan demanded; everything is more blended. There's enough broad, slow music to play to the conductor's strengths in the long line, and the Dresden strings are magnificent. I was also impressed that Thielemann found a way to unite the episodes of tis movement so that they didn't become disjointed. Despite my lack of interest in the first movement, this wound up being a strong BRuckner Eighth, the best in modern sound since the Boulez and Harnoncourt versions, which are 14 and 10 years old respectively.