BRUCKNER Symphony No. 9 in d - Eduardo Chibás, cond; Venezuela SO - MOUSIKE 1016 (58:39) Live: Caracas 6/7/2007.
This is definitely a case where the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak; no questions remain about marketing executive/conductor Eduardo Chibás or his credentials as a Brucknerian. Nor do any questions linger about this orchestra's understanding of the piece, even though it is apparently the first time it was played in Venezuela. The price is right-now about ten bucks. The sound is very good, though it will need a volume boost. But there are some distinct intonation problems, and a few technical hurdles that manifest themselves in a more familiar manner after the comparisons start. In this case I chose Giulini/Vienna (DG), Bernstein/Vienna (DG), and Järvi/Frankfurt (RCA) as benchmarks because of the age of the recordings (1989, 1992, 2009) and also because they are so different interpretatively.
Chibás is fast, one of the fastest in record, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing as conductors, specifically in the last movement (III) sometimes tend to over-exaggerate and make points where none exist, possibly because they feel that some kind of added emphasis needs to be put in place since this is after all an "unfinished" symphony. It does not need this-Bernstein gets that point very well and keeps the bookends moving along nicely, though his scherzo, among the slowest on record, sounds like the soundtrack to War of the Worlds in its menacing might and fearsome pounding. Chibás can be rather breathless in places, and though I completely understand the reasoning, and it does work, those used to more "thoughtful" Bruckner might be taken aback a bit. Giulini is perhaps the most reasonable, the most "civilized" in his Brucknerian presentations, and his ninth is so, well, proportionally perfect, even though some people might consider that he makes the music too presentable, always beautiful, always enjoyable, yet somehow missing something.
Chibás embraces this music with the fervency of a new convert, never seeming to care about any received traditions, and filtering through his musical mind only what he sees coming at him from the score. This is not a bad thing, even refreshing, as the history of Bruckner interpretation is quite littered with heavyweights weighing in with suitable ponderousness and seriousness of tone that often negates what we might intuitively feel Bruckner was trying to tell us. This symphony is dedicated "to the beloved God" but often I think that the music is anything but heavenly in some readings, more like a long and interminable church service with bad singing. I am not sure that Chibás taking the scherzo at what we would normally consider a scherzo tempo-it is blazing fast, and loses some effect in the running-serves as the type of corrective needed in other performances, but he certainly gives it his best shot.
This version uses the Cohrs-edition, at which time it was originally reviewed by Jeffrey J. Lipscomb (31:5) was one of three in existence. Now there are four. Paavo Järvi has recorded the piece using the Frankfurt RSO in marvelous and spectacular SACD surround sound, and it has leapt to the top of my list, and did for Arthur Lintgen as well, as he included it in his 2010 Want List. That production will be hard to top, and even though Chibás has given us a fine reading, the Järvi is too hard for it to overturn. But Chibás cannot be dismissed lightly as his interpretation is fresh and original, while maintaining Bruckner to the core and producing a very fine and balanced sound from the orchestra. Plus the price-this would be recommendable at full price, but cheap is good, and may entice a number of you to investigate. Steven E. Ritter