- Symphony No. 8 in C minor, WAB 108
Some combinations of composer and conductor make intuitive sense; others seem to be a contradiction in terms. Initially, the idea of arch-modernist Pierre Boulez conducting that paragon of romantic grandiosity, Anton Bruckner, might cause raised eyebrows. But within moments of his launch into the composer's monumental Eighth Symphony on this live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, doubts are swept away. Simply put, while it might not fully displace memories of Jochum, Furtwängler, or Klemperer, this is one of the strongest modern Bruckner performances to surface yet. The Vienna Philharmonic could probably play this music in their sleep. But with the vigilant and meticulous Boulez on the podium, there's no question of the orchestra sleepwalking through the score (the Haas edition of the 1890 version, for anyone keeping track). Bruckner's rich, organ-like sonorities ring out gloriously, but subtle details abound. Rhythm is particularly lively; this is no sludgy plod through the composer's thick harmonies. Boulez shaves a few minutes off the Adagio -- allowing the performance to fit on a single disc instead of spilling over onto a second -- but the movement still proceeds at a radiantly spiritual pace and doesn't feel rushed. Final mention must be made of the splendidly reverberant acoustics captured here, at the very church -- St. Florian in Linz, Austria -- where the composer is buried.