a good or outstanding Bruckner performance?
How much of that is decided by the
workís recorded history or by ones
knowledge of the score? These are,
to a certain extent hypothetical questions.
In any event I donít really intend
to answer them. However, the relation
to this work they are significant.
I have heard Brucknerís
Third before; not often itís true,
and itís not a staple of the repertoire.
Even so when I first came to this
recording I felt that it was a totally
new piece to me. Why? What we have
here the original version of 1873.
I have heard the superb Osmo Vänskä
on Hyperion (CDA 67200) as you might
have done. He takes the 1877 version
and incorporates the Adagio from the
1876 revision. I have also heard Johannes
Wildner on a Naxos double album (8.555928-29)
where one disc has the full 1877 version
and on the other the 1889 revision.
And I have just heard that that Medici
Arts (MM016-2) have recently released
an historic 1965 recording conducted
by Carl Schuricht and the immortal
Vienna Philharmonic which should be
quite a revelation.
So how many revisions
were there and does it matter? Well
it does matter because these versions
are very different in many ways. This
however is not a scholarly article
and I am no Bruckner expert, but in
my view coming afresh to this recording,
made live in Hamburg by Simone Young
I felt that I was coming to a new
piece almost entirely.
Letís have a quick
résumé of the revisions
Bruckner made over several years of
doubt. They are clearly set out in
the long, detailed but very welcome
booklet notes by Michael Lewin.
First thereís the
original of 1873, the whole pattern
and structure of which is fairly closely
based on Beethovenís 9th
Symphony. For example, Bruckner brings
back ideas from the first three movements
at the beginning of he Finale, and
please note the key. There is then
a version from 1877-8 which is quite
often performed. Before that however
he had re-written the Adagio in 1876
but that was not aired until 1980.
In 1889-90 the work was subjected
to further extensive revisions. These,
as well as the 1878 version, were
confusingly published during the composerís
lifetime. Although this 1873 is long
- in terms of actual bars the longest
symphony by Bruckner - and at times
might appear unwieldy, the raw freshness
of the work and its gradual cumulative
power are impressive. It is extremely
well held together by the Australian
conductor Simone Young, who is exceedingly
well versed in Bruckner and has frequently
conducted all over the world, especially
in Germany and Austria.
As I listened to
this disc for the first time I was
in the car driving through the imposing
north Yorkshire moors and mountains.
This seemed to be most appropriate.
Once on foot you climb and as you
do so you think that you reach a glorious
summit but on arrival another looms
far ahead. You calm your spirits and
go on. The adrenaline soars as the
next summit is reached. Your spirits
may drop again as yet another even
greater summit emerges through the
mist. This is I hope an apt metaphor
for a composer who lived all of his
life with the mountains and loved
to walk them. Brucknerís music often
has an almost overpowering effect.
So, back to my original
question. Is this a good, serviceable
or outstanding Bruckner 3? I have
read somewhere of Wilhelm Furtwängler
that he remarked that there are instances
in Bruckner - and they are certainly
there in the 1st movement
Ė where one gazes into the face of
God. Simone Young and the Hamburgers
with their gorgeous string section
are especially good at these overwhelming
moments as for example in the great
first climax of the 1st
movement. On the other hand there
are also moments when you must eyeball
the devil and Iím not so sure that
she is able to do this. The Scherzo
of a Bruckner symphony often lends
itself to devilish confrontation.
Although this Scherzo is extraordinarily
short for such a vast work at just
under seven minutes it never seems
to take off or have anything demonic
about it. In addition the finale seems
too often to lose momentum just when
it needs to take off. Yet I am reminded
that the later revisions feature a
finale that is much shorter.
A live recording
offers a sense of great adventure
and the question about Ďaudience participationí
as it were, must arise. In this case
I am not aware of the audience at
all, but was the conductor as she
ambles her way through the Adagio.
Does she never feel the frisson
of pushing the power button that little
bit more in the vast central climax?
Or is it the recording? I have not
heard an Oehms CD before but I have
been to the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg.
I recall feeling that it was all rather
claustrophobic. Nevertheless I am
quite impressed by the recordingís
ambience and naturalness. A superb
bass is audible especially in the
lower brass, which Simone Young fosters
in the first movement in particular.
Can I recommend this
disc? Well, I shall keep it certainly
and play it again. However if I wanted
only one recording then for various
reasons I might be tempted to look
elsewhere for a Bruckner 3. Iím not
convinced by this original version
and would therefore look at the 1877-8
edition as representing the composerís
wisest thoughts as he intended them