Friedemann Layer, Musikalische Akademie des Nationaltheater-Orchesters Mannheim e.V.
Deutschlandradio Kultur (2 CDs). TT: 83:24. Finale: 25:29 (available from www.abruckner.com)
What lifts this most recent edition of the Samale-Mazzuca-Phillips-Cohrs completion into another league entirely from earlier editions and all other completions is the addition of a final restatement of the chorale, followed by an extended development in the brass of the leaping theme from the Finale's first few bars, and a considerably expanded final peroration, again in the full brass. And in the recapitulation just before the coda proper, Layer's combination of dynamic balance and slow tempo brings to the fore the quotation of a theme from Symphony 8—a chromatically descending four-note passage for solo oboe, repeated in various modulations—in a way that balances the mounting excitement of the prefiguring of the coda to come with the certainty of its fulfillment. Here, for the first time, Bruckner's aural edifice sounds fully constructed as he might have intended, all scaffolding removed, and on a scale in proportion with the rest of this astonishing work. Also for the first time, I can imagine someone familiar with all of Bruckner's other symphonies except the Ninth hearing this set, listening to all four movements, and never once thinking that Bruckner didn't actually write every note.
Conductor Friedemann Layer is fully up to the task, even if the Mannheim orchestra is a bit rough in spots. His articulation of the fugue is terrific—the stretto is crystal clear. Here, apparently, Layer gave the violins detailed bowing instructions that bring out references to the leaping theme from the movement's first bars; hitherto this has seemed little more than a supporting figure, but it now sounds as important as the fugue's main subject, and adds another dimension to a fugue already overwhelming in its complexity.
In short, this recording, the most recent of any completion of the Finale, is also the most satisfying by far. It is the only completion with which, after listening to it, I have not found myself looking forward to the next edition's incremental improvements.
Bruckner's Ninth Symphony may never be finished—indeed, Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs has just informed me that he and his colleagues are considering a new revision of the coda. But here, in the four movements presented in Layer's recording, it sounds at last complete. "Stereophile" Richard Lehnert