BBC SSO: Bruckner 9
City Halls, Glasgow
In his first official concert as chief conductor of the BBC SSO, Thomas Dausgaard chose an intriguing way to mark his territory: the Scottish premiere of a completion of Anton Bruckner’s unfinished Ninth Symphony, made several years ago by a collection of Brucknerite composers, conductors and scholars. Unlike Deryck Cooke’s Mahler 10, Sussmayer’s Mozart Requiem, or even Anthony Payne’s Elgar 3, this is a realisation carried out by committee. It shows.
There was inevitably a sense of anticipation as Dausgaard’s valiant reading approached the end of the third movement – that descent into silence we are traditionally used to as Bruckner’s final symphonic word. But here, the extended journey exploded into a fiery reawakening of the soul, ultimately a blinding sunburst ignited by fearsome unresolved dissonances and impulsive thematic back references. These threw up interesting new perspectives on the familiar movements, though they also highlighted palpable weaknesses in the new finale. There’s an awkwardness, an uncertainty, lurking in moments of the music which seemed at times to unnerve the players: a little rhythmic wobble here, a lack of absolute unanimity there.
Had he lived long enough, would the obsessive Bruckner – as he mostly did – have repeatedly revised his thoughts? You wonder if this completion project might have been better done by a single, similarly minded personality, even if that meant making freer judgement on the source material.
The concert opened with Helen Grime’s steely Catterline in Winter (based on paintings by Joan Eardley), and promised interesting times ahead for this new conductor-orchestra partnership.