For the second time in five days, I got to hear Bruckner‘s Eighth in Salzburg’s Great Festival House, tonight with the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz under its new chief conductor, Markus Poschner.
Sunday’s performance was better. First of all, the Mozarteum Orchestra is simply a far better ensemble, and in a difficult work like this, the quality of the orchestra right there counts for much. But as the orchestra formerly known as the Linz Theater Orchestra was renamed fifty years ago after Upper Austria’s greatest composer, Bruckner does make up a staple of its repertory, so it should be expected to specialize in this music.
Poschner’s concept was to treat this expansive work as almost a chamber symphony. Sure, he had the full-sized orchestra on stage and playing, but he often restrained them. This had the unfortunate drawback that it also exposed them – they lack the virtuosity of the Mozarteum Orchestra, so missed some cues, came in off-pitch, and just did not maintain the beauty of sound at the lower volumes. For the louder moments, they did not quite soar either. I suppose the third movement – one of the greatest adagios in the entire symphonic repertory – came of worst for the wear: far too small. But throughout the brass chorales never took off, the strings creaked, the woodwinds (especially the flutes) never quite found the right tones, and the tympanist was fine but might have been unleashed more.
Thankfully, the performance did not drag (as a bad performance of this symphony inevitably does), so it was essentially in good working order. But coming as it did so close to the Mozarteum’s performance of the same work in this hall, it did not survive the comparison. I cannot say I am disappointed to hear this symphony twice within one week.