Berky’s Bruckner Archive

Among the most dazzling discographies in existence is John F. Berky’s Bruckner site ABRUCKNER.COM (the discography specifically is at where every known recording of a work by Bruckner – ‘live’ or ‘studio’ – including every edition of every symphony, is listed in detail, whether or not readily available. My first reaction when visiting the site (specifically to check out Sergiu Celibidache’s Bruckner recordings, of which there are dozens) was ‘I give up’. Surveying this territory thoroughly would take more than a single lifetime and that would mean banishing the presence of a thousand or more great musical works that lay outside the Bruckner remit. So I now use it only to check facts ….. and for that it’s an invaluable resource.

Enter Gerd Schaller with the 1874 Fourth Symphony

With the composer’s 200th birthday due to fall in 2024 more than one conductor is rising to the challenge of recording all the symphonies in all the versions including intermediate variants. One such braveheart is Gerd Schaller, who studied music at the Würzburg College of Music and medicine at the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and whose Bruckner project is well on the way to completion (an intermediary 20-cd set is out on Hänssler Profil cPH22007, £57.50) but the latest single CD highlights the 1874 version of the Fourth Symphony, a world very different to the ones we’ve known under the likes of Böhm, Karajan, Furtwängler, Knappertsbusch, Wand and so forth.

Imagine spending your life at a favourite outdoor haunt, seduced by familiar flora and fauna, by the width of the sky space, the local sounds and smells and the people you love best. You nod off then wake up and to your amazement everything has changed, the flowers have been transplanted, so have the trees, faces are only vaguely familiar, voices too and the blue skies are now threatened by distant storm clouds.

You rub your eyes but it’s no good, this new version of reality is here to stay. Musically, this means a plethora of details have also changed, including added counterpoint and countersubjects, revised orchestration, and fresh themes sprouting among the thickets. It’s a weird but wonderful new terrain, especially the third movement scherzo which trades the familiar bumpety-tump of the 1878/1880 version with its hunting calls for a lone, shofar-like horn that seems to be in league with those clouds, summoning inclement weather from the far distance. Interestingly it fits the finale far more appropriately than does the rewrite and the finale itself is also significantly different.

I much prefer this edition and Schaller’s version gives is to you straight, with no frills, no longueurs or attempts to temper the landscape, no AstroTurf to make the ground more comfortable; this is not a comfortable place to be in. The Philharmonie Festiva (which Schaller founded), recorded live (with considerable realism), offers a dedicated, well played,  unselfconscious performance without mannerism, a reading that suits Bruckner’s musical honesty ‘to a T’.  (Bruckner Symphony No. 4 [1874 version], Philharmonie Festiva, Gerd Schaller, Hänssler Profil PH22010, c£13.50).

The Fifth Symphony from the organ loft

Schaller is also a first-rate organist and his organ arrangements of Bruckner’s Ninth and Fifth Symphonies suggest a new listening location, less a cathedral than sunny grasses outside while the Cathedral doors are flung open, the organ is playing full blast and mountain ranges dominate the distant skyline. Not being an organist myself I can’t say quite how Schaller achieves the immense range of colour and dynamics on offer here, but I’d advise the curious to beam up 7:09 into the massive finale (23:06) where one of the Fifth Symphony’s principal themes thunders out as if Zeus himself had visited the human fold. Beyond that, and especially in the closing pages, the music inhabits elevated realms and although, inevitably, the loss of subtler orchestral textures will register with those who know the orchestral original especially well, tempi are never sluggish and the overall impression is mightily impressive (Bruckner Symphony No. 5 arranged for organ – world première recording – Gerd Schaller playing the organ at former Cistercian Abbey, Ebrach, Franconia, Germany. Hänssler Profil PH23014, rec. 2022, c£21.00)


  1. Brian Gardner

    Hi Rob.
    Not related to your latest post but, having heard James Jolly praising Living Presence and Living Stereo recordings on the Gramophone on the stream of the Gramophone 100 Birthday Concert, I dug out a few of my C. D’s and, indeed, records.
    Stereo they (mostly) ain’t, surround sound they ain’t, Dolby they ain’t and spatial audio they ain’t, but they still sound wonderful.
    I sometimes wonder if we don’t spend too much time listening to the sound, rather than the music?
    Best Wishes,
    Brian (Gardner)


  2. Interesting Brian. Sound like musical performance has a ‘personality’, Mercury’s ‘sock-it-to-me’ sonics being quite moreish. Decca’s latest refurbishment of the Solti Ring is sensational. If you only know the performance through the lps or even the first cd incarnation, this new edition is vastly superior. But, no, of course the music is the thing
    Best, Rob.


    1. Brian

      I have a 1997 C. D. Version of the Solti ring which I bought second hand about 15-16 years ago. The box hadn’t even been opened, I don’t think. I think it’s been through a few editions since then? I was also fortunate enough to win the Karajan Ring on Blu-ray audio a few years ago. I will have a listen to the ‘new’ Solti as it comes on stream. Viva Music!
      Best Wishes,


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