Like Bruckner's Eighth Symphony itself, Carlo Maria Giulini's digital recording of it with the Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon 415 124-2) does not unfold its mysteries easily. Only after repeated hearings did Giulini's reading of the first movement strike me as one of the greatest on record. I have never heard such anguish and unrelieved despair brought out in this music: The climactic chords positively shriek with pain. The profound mystery of the second movement Scherzo is deftly caught. The Adagio begins on an otherworldy plateau and looks neither backward or downward. And under Giulini's baton, the finale is an especially grandiose statement of affirmation.
Though not faultless, the Vienna Philharmonic plays with an almost frightening intensity throughout. And though Giulini uses the shortened Nowak edition of the score, his conviction that this is the only way the music could possibly be performed makes me believe in the version's validity. This could be the finest performance of a Bruckner symphony yet committed to recording.