Bruckner paid homage
to one of his primary deities by dedicating
his Symphony No. 3 to Richard Wagner.
The symphony popularly known as the
‘Wagner’ contains several quotations
from Wagner’s music dramas; Die Walküre
and Tristan und Isolde in
the first movement, Lohengrin
and Die Walküre again in
the Adagio, as well as passing references
to other Wagnerian motifs.
Bruckner was an inveterate
reviser of his works, probably as a
result of his tendencies towards perfectionism,
a lack of confidence and an extreme
sensitivity to criticism. Consequently
his Symphony No. 3 ‘Wagner’ was
subject to extensive re-workings over
a number of years. In addition there
have been several alterations made by
others such as collaborators, students
and publishing editors. Its complex
and protracted history is an essay in
The ‘Wagner Symphony’
was completed in 1873 and a feted
recording of this ‘original’ version
is available on Naxos 8.553454 conducted
by Georg Tintner. Bruckner had severe
problems in obtaining a first performance;
there seemed to be difficulties at every
turn. Unfortunately for Bruckner the
most telling reason was that his adoration
of Wagner antagonised the vociferous
and influential anti-Wagner faction;
furthermore the symphony carried an
authorised dedication to Wagner. Finally
the Symphony received its premiere
with the composer conducting the Vienna
Philharmonic Orchestra in Vienna in
1877. It is this so called ‘third’ version
played by New Philharmonic Orchestra
of Westphalia under Johannes Wildner
that we hear on CD 1.
The 1877 premiere of
the Symphony No. 3 ‘Wagner’ received
much criticism and antagonism. We are
told that by the time of the final movement
there were only twenty-five people left
in the audience. Famously one of these
was Gustav Mahler.
Also contained on this
release is the symphony’s longer Adagio
(CD 1, track 5) from 1876 which forms
part of an intermediate version. It
can be programmed as an alternative
to the second movement (CD 1, track
2) from the 1877 ‘third’ version.
In the 1877 version
Austrian-born conductor Johannes Wildner
ensures a forward-moving pace never
allowing a hint of sluggishness. The
tutti sound that Wildner draws
from the players is sharp and clean,
a well-judged dialogue throughout between
wind and strings. There’s fine control
of dynamics and balance with taut and
concentrated playing. I was particularly
impressed with the way Wildner highlights
the textual detail and how he gives
the numerous themes time to breathe.
Contained on CD 2 is
an 1889 version of the Symphony No.
3 ‘Wagner’ edited by musicologist
Leopold Nowak. This has been stated
recently by some Bruckner scholars to
be actually the ninth alternative score.
This 1889 edition is the most usual
version to be heard today. Owing to
cuts and other revisions this 1889 edition
is some nine minutes shorter than the
1877 version on CD1.
Johannes Wildner gives
a performance of the 1889 version that
is refined and thoughtful, never over-ambitious
or too red-blooded with just the appropriate
amount of forward momentum. I liked
the way the impressive Wildner accurately
maintains a clarity of line all the
way through to the Finale. The
results are wonderfully expressive with
Wildner using the large orchestral forces
to colourful and potent effect, especially
in the superbly articulated climaxes.
The sound quality of
this Naxos double CD set has presence
and body which really suits these powerful
works. The scholarly annotation is quite
complex and is not always easy to read.
Both versions of the Symphony are
shaped with care and are superbly played.
Naxos are to congratulated:
These are memorable performances and
make for a fascinating Bruckner document.
see also review
by John Phillips