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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 (1866) [46:39]
Prelude and Fugue* (1847) [4:33]
“Perger” Prelude* (1884) [2:05]
Wiener Akademie/Martin Haselböck;
*Martin Haselböck (organ).
rec. 15 May 2005, Grosser Saal, Musikverein, Vienna;  *15 June 2005, Hofburgkapelle, Vienna.
SACD disc, plays on all CD and SACD players.
CAPRICCIO 71 063 [53:19]

 

Bruckner’s 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.

Bruckner 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.

The 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.

Philippe 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.

The 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.

Glyn Pursglove

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