The unique splendors of the Eighth Symphony of Bruckner were unfolded with no little splendor last night as Zubin Mehta led the New York Philharmonic in the Kennedy Center.
Rightly nominated by the composer as the artistic crown of his career, the symphony is a witness to his admiration for Wagnerian thought. It is freighted with the spirit of "Tristan und Isolde," while the closing pages are pure "Gotterdaemmerung."
Yet the work is unmistakable Bruckner in conception and in the characteristic outpouring of energy that marks three of its movements. The adagio, that paean to the key of D flat, stands alone in its epic exploration of the calmly sublime.
The Philharmonic had all that is needed for a Herculean performance of Bruckner's Eighth. The violins had a golden radiance, the cellos and violas the luxuriant tone desirable in their great solo passages. The brasses, enriched by the Wagner tubas, spoke genuine nobility, while the woodwind choir, particularly at those moments in contrast to the full orchestra, added a special beauty. The solo horn was eloquent most of the evening in the face of heavy demands. That there were roughnesses at various points in the orchestra, especially in the scherzo, is not surprising when you consider the work's total demands, yet they were strange to hear from this ensemble.
Mehta kept the epic elements of the symphony to the fore. It may have been his forceful leadership that led some players to momentary excesses. Other conductors have read the work with loftier emphases that in no way lessen its impact. This is especially true of the adagio which can, with greater effect, sound slower and more motionless than Mehta permitted. In Bruckner no spiritual approach is too much. Perhaps if Mehta's right heel had struck the podium less loudly and had coincided with the beat -- which it never did -- a finer emphasis might have been achieved.