BRUCKNER Symphony No. 9 - Eduardo Chibás, cond; Venezuela SO - MOUSIKE 1016 (58:39) Live: Caracas 6/7/2007.

 Bruckner's unfinished Ninth has fewer textual complications than most of the composer's earlier symphonies. That's mainly because Bruckner (1824-1896) died before completing the work's Finale (surviving sketches of the latter are roughly 80-85% complete, but there are several gaps and most of the Coda is missing). Had he lived longer, Bruckner most likely would have made revisions to his last symphony.

Until the 1930s, the Ninth was performed only in a heavily-altered version of 1903 by the composer's pupil Ferdinand Löwe. After Bruckner's death, Löwe made changes in the Ninth's instrumentation, introduced a few cuts, softened many of the work's dissonances, and added some ludicrously "Wagnerian" orchestral swells to the Adagio. In a special concert given at Munich in 1932, Sigmund von Hausegger conducted the bowdlerized Löwe edition and then followed it with a performance of Bruckner's original in an edition by Alfred Orel (who also published the fourth movement's sketches in 1934). The Orel edition of the first three movements is virtually identical to the one produced by Leopold Nowak in 1951. More recently (2000), Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs issued a newly-edited version of the three movement torso.

This live 2007 recording from Chibás and the Venezuela Symphony is the third on disc to use the Cohrs edition: the others are the 2002 Harnoncourt/Vienna Philharmonic (RCA) and the 2006 Naito/Tokyo New City (Delta, available from ABruckner.com). In the RCA set (two discs), Harnoncourt also gives a live "workshop" presentation of the Finale's sketches (minus the Coda fragments), with commentary by the conductor, while Naito's CD offers all four movements (the Finale is in a "completion" by William Carragan). In the Scherzo, Naito performs a version of the Trio that Bruckner rejected in favor of the one normally heard. By contrast, Chibás plays only the conventional three movements.

In following these three recordings with my copy of the Nowak score, I couldn't detect any major differences in the Cohrs edition, save for a few added timpani strokes at bars 299-301 of the opening movement (heard only from Harnoncourt and Chibás; Naito omits them). Chibás delivers a reading that is solemnly dramatic, sincerely committed, and effectively paced. While his orchestra is not a top-flight ensemble, it plays with great determination, despite some suspect intonation here and there. The first movement is well-shaped and avoids the episodic quality heard from Harnoncourt; the Coda is suitably majestic. Chibás takes the Scherzo at a fairly swift 9:55 that's full of menace. Although his players show some signs of tiring in the Adagio, Chibás manages to convey most of the music's angst and loneliness.

All three of these Cohrs edition Bruckner Ninths are worth owning. The best-played is the Harnoncourt/VPO, but there are a few interpretive eccentricities: the strings are made to play with little vibrato, there's a too-brisk approach to the Trio's second subject, and a bizarre speed-up in the Adagio's second subject tends to trivialize the music. Still, the execution is superb, and the "workshop" presentation of sketches from the Finale is most absorbing. Naito is the most subtly expressive of the three, and his reading of the Finale "completion" is more persuasive than any of the others I've heard (i.e., those from Inbal, Talmi, Eichhorn and Wildner). Chibás is the most volatile and impassioned, and his disc has the advantage of a budget price (six dollars plus postage). Jeffrey J. Lipscomb