first Symphony, in C minor, is perhaps the most ‘classical’
of his symphonies, especially when played - as here - in the
Linz version rather than in the Vienna revision of 1890/1891.
The Linz version has an underlying clarity of design and a clear
purposefulness which later additions and revisions, such as
more frequent fluctuations of tempo and a kind of added fussiness
over detail, served only to obscure.
wouldn’t be Bruckner, though, if even his first Symphony didn’t
transgress – for powerful creative reasons – the orthodoxies
of classicism. The E flat theme, is grandly – and unexpectedly
- introduced on the trombones, in the first movement. There’s
the lack of tonal certainty at the beginning of the adagio,
well described by Robert Simpson, “dark gropings around the
region of F minor climb towards the light, sink again, make
another attempt”. Then there’s the way in which the structure
of the adagio sets up, and then puzzles, our expectations of
orthodox sonata form. The scherzo teases the listener with its
approaches towards – and withdrawings from – regularity. All
these episodes make us think, with the advantage of hindsight,
of the later Bruckner symphonies in their full-fledged, even
eccentric, individuality. But there is also much in this first
Symphony which Beethoven or Schubert would surely have acknowledged
as being firmly grounded in the aesthetics of the symphony as
they understood them. Much of the fourth movement allegro –
the movement which Bruckner changed most radically in his revision
– makes one think of the earlier Viennese masters. Not least,
the magnificent, electrically energetic coda.
first Symphony’s essentially transitional nature, its Janus-like
looking in two stylistic directions - comes out very vividly
in this performance, played as it is on early instruments. The
orchestral forces are relatively modest. Wooden flutes and trombones
are used. Indeed Haselböck’s musicians use the very instruments
Bruckner bought for a performance of his Mass in f minor! Catgut
strings are in evidence alongside contemporary brass instruments.
The sound-world is far removed from our image of Bruckner based
largely on modern-instrument performances of his later symphonies.
Herreweghe’s ‘authentic instrument’ version of the Seventh Symphony
with the Orchestre des Champs Elysées (on Harmonia Mundi) attracted
a good deal of attention - and mixed judgements. Haselböck is
not, then, the first in this field. But there does seem a particular
aptness to the adoption of this approach where Bruckner’s early
work is concerned and the results make for fascinating listening.
One hears the balance and interplay of strings and winds rather
differently, for example and new details become apparent. There
is a sense of airiness to the sound which one hasn’t often heard
in modern instrument performances of the symphony. I wouldn’t
claim that this interpretation was revelatory, or even that
Haselböck’s vision of the music is especially individual. But
this is a performance which may entice those whose main interests
lie with Bruckner’s classical predecessors and may refresh the
ears of more seasoned Brucknerians.
disc is completed by Haselböck’s performance of two of Bruckner’s
organ works – one early, one latish. They are well performed
and recorded - I have heard this recording only on a conventional
CD player – as is the symphony.