> Anton Bruckner - Symphony No. 1 [JQ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No 1 in C minor
Second (Vienna) version (1890/91)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester
conducted by Günter Wand
Recorded 11 July 1981 in the Grosser Sendesaal (now the Klaus von Bismarck Saal), Cologne
BMG RCA 09026 63931 2 [48’15"]


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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.

John Quinn

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