John Proffitt's Report on the Concert

I traveled to Dallas from Houston to attend the Sunday afternoon matinee at Meyerson Symphony Hall. It was an excellent concert with what appeared to be a 3/4 full house. Upon receiving the program, I was startled to read "Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8, 1890 Bruckner - Schalk Edition." One rarely sees the name of Franz Schalk -- Bruckner apostle and controversial editor of first published editions -- associated with Bruckner symphony performances today. The well-written program notes made no mention of this "edition" but gave the estimated performance time as 70 minutes, which in practice turned out to be a more common 80+.

As the performance began, I was quickly impressed and beguiled by van Zweden and his orchestra. One notices immediately van Zweden's almost balletic approach to conducting: fluid full-body movement, graceful left-hand sculpting of musical phrases and pinpoint precision of right-hand baton. The musicians of the DSO reciprocate with alert sensitivity to the Maestro's direction.

First movement and Scherzo were slightly faster than normal, but not at all out of the norm. The Adagio at 27 minutes was IMO just right -- it did not drag, nor did it sag into exaggerated solemnity, but it was not rushed. The poetic sensitivity of the string playing was a particular delight in the Adagio. The Finale was once again slightly faster than my usual impression and was the dramatic focus of the performance, with sharply pounding timpani and blazing brass launching the movement in thrilling fashion. Van Zweden's masterful shaping of the "terraced climax" which concludes the movement and the symphony produced an almost unbearable tension in this listener, which appeared to be shared by the Meyerson audience -- which at the final, crushing cadence erupted in a well-earned standing ovation for the orchestra, conductor and Anton Bruckner!

I would summarize van Zweden's approach as dramatic and fluid, with a liberal use of rubato throughout -- rather than monumental or mystic/reverential, although there were plenty of moments of monumentality: at climaxes the brass really shone, with magnificent, error-free playing throughout this challenging symphony. Strings were likewise precise in attack and articulation, with very rich & full forte playing. Violins were divided to the left and right of the conductor, the arrangement Bruckner himself would have been familiar with.

I noticed one or two oddities of orchestration, which I presume originate with the Schalk edition. Some woodwind lines also stood out in ways that did not sound like the familiar Nowak or Haas editions of this score.

Overall, I was greatly impressed with van Zweden and his Dallas orchestra in their concept of the Eighth. For me what really stood out were the Trio of the Scherzo (3 harps!) and the Finale, both of which were way above the average level of B8 execution I'm familiar with from live performances and CDs.

In the Green Room afterwards I had a lengthy conversation with the maestro and he was delighted that the Bruckner Society of America had taken an interest in his Bruckner. I asked him about the Schalk edition reference in the program notes, and he explained that it was actually his own version, mainly Nowak with some additions taken from the first published edition as edited by Franz Schalk; and that he had gotten the idea as a student in Amsterdam from conductor Eugen Jochum.