Uncoiling like an awakening giant, Bruckner?s Eighth Symphony moves with deliberation and immense strength as it guides its listeners through depths of despair and peaks of affirmation to reach wonderful gleaming triumph after an hour and a half.
It demands a sure hand at the helm and an orchestra capable of gems of incidental solo colour, sonorous ensemble work and, naturally, dedicated stamina. This is, after all, like playing an act of one of Wagner?s longest operas without the assistance of singers or visual distraction.
On Tuesday members of the CBSO looked understandably drained at the end of a rare hearing of this gargantuan masterpiece, but their rewards were huge after a reading under Manfred Honeck which seemed to disregard real time, flowing and holding back by turns, making this huge structure breathe with natural shape.
Pauses between movements were appropriately prolonged, underlining the essential sacramental nature of Bruckner?s deeply religious conception. But the pauses between paragraphs which once sabotaged earlier interpretations were here taken as mere commas, a drawing of breath for listeners and performers alike.
So many aspects of this account brought delights which added to the lustre of the evening. Here, for once, we heard the three harps Bruckner hoped for, sounding like otherworldly Rhinemaidens. The Wagner tubas brought solemnity to proceedings. Basses dug in like organ pedals, underpinning Bruckner?s often organ-like registrations.
And the strings, genially led by James Clarke, played with rich, burnished tone, and took us frequently into the rarefied realms of chamber-music. This was characteristic of this awesome performance, all the scores of players listening to each other.
Repeated tonight at Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (8pm, details on 024 7652 4524).