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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 3 (original version, 1873)
Philharmoniker Hamburg/Simone Young
rec. live, Laeiszhalle, Hamburg, 14-16 October 2006
Experience Classicsonline

What constitutes a good or outstanding Bruckner performance? How much of that is decided by the workís recorded history or by ones knowledge of the score? These are, to a certain extent hypothetical questions. In any event I donít really intend to answer them. However, the relation to this work they are significant.

I have heard Brucknerís Third before; not often itís true, and itís not a staple of the repertoire. Even so when I first came to this recording I felt that it was a totally new piece to me. Why? What we have here the original version of 1873. I have heard the superb Osmo Vänskä on Hyperion (CDA 67200) as you might have done. He takes the 1877 version and incorporates the Adagio from the 1876 revision. I have also heard Johannes Wildner on a Naxos double album (8.555928-29) where one disc has the full 1877 version and on the other the 1889 revision. And I have just heard that that Medici Arts (MM016-2) have recently released an historic 1965 recording conducted by Carl Schuricht and the immortal Vienna Philharmonic which should be quite a revelation.

So how many revisions were there and does it matter? Well it does matter because these versions are very different in many ways. This however is not a scholarly article and I am no Bruckner expert, but in my view coming afresh to this recording, made live in Hamburg by Simone Young I felt that I was coming to a new piece almost entirely.

Letís have a quick résumé of the revisions Bruckner made over several years of doubt. They are clearly set out in the long, detailed but very welcome booklet notes by Michael Lewin.

First thereís the original of 1873, the whole pattern and structure of which is fairly closely based on Beethovenís 9th Symphony. For example, Bruckner brings back ideas from the first three movements at the beginning of he Finale, and please note the key. There is then a version from 1877-8 which is quite often performed. Before that however he had re-written the Adagio in 1876 but that was not aired until 1980. In 1889-90 the work was subjected to further extensive revisions. These, as well as the 1878 version, were confusingly published during the composerís lifetime. Although this 1873 is long - in terms of actual bars the longest symphony by Bruckner - and at times might appear unwieldy, the raw freshness of the work and its gradual cumulative power are impressive. It is extremely well held together by the Australian conductor Simone Young, who is exceedingly well versed in Bruckner and has frequently conducted all over the world, especially in Germany and Austria.

As I listened to this disc for the first time I was in the car driving through the imposing north Yorkshire moors and mountains. This seemed to be most appropriate. Once on foot you climb and as you do so you think that you reach a glorious summit but on arrival another looms far ahead. You calm your spirits and go on. The adrenaline soars as the next summit is reached. Your spirits may drop again as yet another even greater summit emerges through the mist. This is I hope an apt metaphor for a composer who lived all of his life with the mountains and loved to walk them. Brucknerís music often has an almost overpowering effect.

So, back to my original question. Is this a good, serviceable or outstanding Bruckner 3? I have read somewhere of Wilhelm Furtwängler that he remarked that there are instances in Bruckner - and they are certainly there in the 1st movement Ė where one gazes into the face of God. Simone Young and the Hamburgers with their gorgeous string section are especially good at these overwhelming moments as for example in the great first climax of the 1st movement. On the other hand there are also moments when you must eyeball the devil and Iím not so sure that she is able to do this. The Scherzo of a Bruckner symphony often lends itself to devilish confrontation. Although this Scherzo is extraordinarily short for such a vast work at just under seven minutes it never seems to take off or have anything demonic about it. In addition the finale seems too often to lose momentum just when it needs to take off. Yet I am reminded that the later revisions feature a finale that is much shorter.

A live recording offers a sense of great adventure and the question about Ďaudience participationí as it were, must arise. In this case I am not aware of the audience at all, but was the conductor as she ambles her way through the Adagio. Does she never feel the frisson of pushing the power button that little bit more in the vast central climax? Or is it the recording? I have not heard an Oehms CD before but I have been to the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg. I recall feeling that it was all rather claustrophobic. Nevertheless I am quite impressed by the recordingís ambience and naturalness. A superb bass is audible especially in the lower brass, which Simone Young fosters in the first movement in particular.

Can I recommend this disc? Well, I shall keep it certainly and play it again. However if I wanted only one recording then for various reasons I might be tempted to look elsewhere for a Bruckner 3. Iím not convinced by this original version and would therefore look at the 1877-8 edition as representing the composerís wisest thoughts as he intended them for posterity.

Gary Higginson


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