This reissue comes from Günter Wand’s complete
Bruckner cycle made for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in the 1980s. For those
who admire this conductor in Bruckner, as I do, it is particularly valuable
because although Wand went on to re-record most of the symphonies at
least once more he never returned to the first two. According to Wand’s
biographer, Wolfgang Seifert, these two works did not appeal to him.
Seifert, writing in his essay accompanying BMG’s set of Wand’s ‘Essential
Recordings’ does not make it clear whether Wand lost interest in the
earlier symphonies or was never fully engaged by them (in which case,
presumably, he recorded them in the 1980s for the sake of completeness.)
It’s only fair to say that there’s no sign in this performance that
Wand is just going through the motions. However, he has clearly decided
that, as a general rule, a certain briskness of tempo is a sensible
policy. (By contrast Riccardo Chailly’s 1988 recording, also using the
Vienna version, takes 54 minutes)
Bruckner’s first acknowledged symphony was composed
in Linz in 1865/6 and was premiered in that city in 1868. Over the course
of the next two decades or so Bruckner tinkered with the work on and
off but it was only in 1890, after completing the second version of
the mighty Eighth (also in C minor, of course) that he began to make
a comprehensive revision of the First. His revision, though extensive,
was really a matter of detail rather than of structure. It is this later
version that Günter Wand has recorded.
The composer himself referred to the symphony as an
"impudent little urchin" and there is certainly something
of that in the first movement, the first subject of which might be described
as a march which trips along rather cheekily. Like the symphony as a
whole it is, not surprisingly, less refined than much of Bruckner’s
later music and his lack of experience in orchestral writing does show.
The music has a certain rustic character to it but it is certainly engaging.
The adagio does lack the profundity of the comparable
movements in the later symphonies but the stamping scherzo, on the other
hand, is much closer to the mature Bruckner. This and the fiery finale
seem to me to contain the best music and perhaps it is no coincidence
that Wand’s performance is here at its best.
Throughout the Cologne orchestra play with commitment.
This symphony may not represent Bruckner at his finest but it is worth
hearing, especially when, as here, it receives a very good performance.
The re-mastered sound is rich and full. Those wanting a good recording
of this symphony in the later version can invest with confidence.