CD Number: BBC Legends 4174-2
CD Number: Profil/Hanssler PH 05020
When, in 1945, Reginald Goodall was chosen to lead the premiere of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, many assumed he was on the verge of a major career. But soon thereafter, he took his leave of the podium, having developed an aversion to performing in public. Though he could still be seen at Covent Garden, it was more often than not backstage or behind the scenes, and he eventually settled into the role of a much sought after vocal coach. In the 1970's talk of a possible comeback was publicly dismissed by then musical director George Solti, who called Goodall's methods "old-fashioned."
For the conductor Georg Solti, I'm sure that "old-fashioned" meant "traditional" and "slow." Indeed Goodall's experience of performances by Hans Knappertsbusch during his formative student days in Munich pretty much determined his core repertory and style. For the rest of his career, such as it was, Goodall specialized almost exclusively in Wagner and Bruckner, and his approach to both composers was marked by extremely slow tempos. It's hardly surprising that Solti had trouble understanding Goodall. As one of the purest examples of the modern school of conducting, Solti championed virtuosic brilliance, precise articulation, and fleet, athletic tempos--the inverse of a traditional Teutonic approach.
By 1968, Saddler's Wells (now the English National Opera) was prepared to do what Covent Garden wouldn't, and put Goodall in charge of a new production of Wagner's "Ring" cycle. The result was a series of hugely acclaimed performances that reestablished his reputation in the twilight of his life. Between 1973 and 1977, he recorded that cycle, the first ever in English. As you might have expected, it is the slowest "Ring" ever, taking a whole two hours longer than Solti's.
At this point, I have to admit that I've never found Goodall's Wagner all that appealing. I don't mind the extremely slow pacing, but often the tempos just don't seem all that differentiated. And worse, sometimes Sir Reginald seems indifferent to the theatrical element in the music: more than a few of the big moments seem maddeningly nondescript. But this Bruckner performance is truly inspired, and it makes a lasting impression.
We have the BBC Orchestra to thank for that. In 1968, the orchestra invited Sir Reginald to conduct the Bruckner Eighth at a Proms concert, and the success of that performance led to later recordings of a Seventh in 1971 and this Ninth in 1974--all now preserved, thankfully, on BBC Legends.
Though Goodall's timings in the Ninth are as slow as Giulini's (with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony, a recent DVD release from ArtHaus), in fact the two performances couldn't be more dissimilar. Giulini stresses the terror and anguish of the music, the sense of fear and trembling in the face of death. Goodall emphasizes the devotional aspect of Bruckner's inspiration, the heartfelt innocence of his faith. Here the heavenly grandeur revealed at the opening leads directly to the serenity and grace of the closing pages. Like Knappertsbusch, Goodall favors rugged, roughhewn textures that lend his spiritual musings a rustic, earthy character. The connection to Schubert has never been more apparent.
Recorded in 1994, Sanderling's Fourth is also on the spacious side, but the performance is more architectural than philosophical. Sanderling's characteristically patient, unforced interpretation emphasizes the flow and cohesiveness of Bruckner's structures, its inner logic. It's true that in less capable hands, Bruckner's sense of development can seem very choppy and episodic. That's never the case here, where each movement unfolds at a leisurely, but completely natural pace. The music has never sounded lovelier, which is not to say the climaxes are in any way underpowered. Indeed, the big moments make an even more dramatic impression for having been so purposefully anticipated. Those who (like me) were impressed by the honesty and directness of Sanderling's Bruckner Seventh (with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony, also on Hanssler) will need no further recommendation. I'm not sure how much longer Sanderling, who announced his retirement in 2002, will remain among us. But I'd be willing to bet his Bruckner recordings will be among the performances he's remembered by.
You would never mistake the sometimes bass-deficient BBC Symphony for a German orchestra, but these Brits can sustain a long line with great unity of purpose, and the intensity of the playing suggests they were very aware of the occasion. It's the sound I find disappointing: a studio recording that is clear but not very vivid. The Bavarian Radio Symphony, on the other hand, has been specializing in Bruckner since it was founded by Eugen Jochim soon after the Second World War. Here the orchestra plays magnificently for Sanderling in sound that is every bit as vivid, spacious, and detailed as the performance.
Though neither of these performances would merit a top recommendation (I'd still go with Klemperer and Boehm in the Fourth, the DG Furtwangler and Giulini with the Chicago for the Ninth), both share an honesty and authority that make them essential for true-hearted Brucknerians.