I obtained this recording as a download from Passionato.com
and had intended to include it in my next Download Roundup,
but I was so impressed with the quality of the performance that
I felt that it needed more detailed analysis, especially as
it seems to have passed us and other reviewers by when it was
Bruckner’s Third Symphony is sometimes known as the ‘Wagner
symphony’ for reasons which the current recording of the first
version makes clear, though some of the quotations and hints
of Wagner’s music were removed in later editions.
All too often performances of Bruckner sound as if the same
thematic material is being repeated ad nauseam – you
leave the room to make a cup of coffee and return to apparently
the same few bars that you were hearing before you left, so
that the joke about Vivaldi writing the same music 500 times
seems even more applicable to Bruckner.
Actually, it isn’t true of either composer but, while it seems
almost impossible for any conductor to wreck Vivaldi, it’s all
too easy with Bruckner, as some of the routine performances
of his music which appear on BBC Radio 3’s afternoon schedule
make clear. Even some performances of the wonderful ‘Romantic’
Symphony (No.4) can sound very routine.
We seem, however, to have been lucky with recorded performances
of Bruckner, even dating back to the time when his music and
that of Mahler were unfashionable. I got to know the Romantic
Symphony courtesy of a mono Vox recording with Klemperer
conducting and there have been several very worthy successors,
notably from Karl Böhm (Decca The Originals 475 8403) and Günter
Wand (RCA 74321 680102, at budget price, or download as 09026
688392 for just £2.76 from Amazon.co.uk – Bargain of the Month:
see March 2010 Download
To that august company of Bruckner conductors I must now add
Jonathan Nott. I had already been impressed by his Mahler: my
colleague Dan Morgan made his version of the second Symphony,
the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony, his Recording of the Month
and the same qualities inform this Bruckner recording.
The opening movement is marked, in a mixture of German and Italian,
gemässigt misterioso, measured and mysterious. The danger,
as with any Bruckner performance, is of launching into a climax
too soon, a temptation which Nott wisely avoids, so that the
climaxes when they come arise all the more effectively from
the measured and mysterious background. Yet, for all that he
gives weight to the different aspects of this movement, Nott
keeps the momentum going forward, though with no sense of relentlessness.
As in the first movement, Nott is careful in the second to give
full weight to the two markings, adagio and feierlich.
The music comes out as perhaps more hopeful and anticipatory
than celebratory – the literal meaning of feierlich –
but that’s appropriate for this stage in the development of
a Bruckner symphony.
In fact, listening to this movement again, having allowed the
interpretation to grow on me, there is a truly celebratory mood
in the last 3 minutes or so of the movement, though it’s also
tinged with some deeper thoughts which a less sensitive conductor
might have smoothed out.
Comparisons are bedevilled by the differences between the various
revisions of this symphony, with Nott making a very strong case
for the 1873 original, but timings for this movement range from
13:42 (Wand with the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra on RCA
– recently deleted) to 21:14 (Bolton and the Salzburg Mozarteum
Orchestra on Oehms OC722 – a Gramophone Editor’s Choice
– see Terry Barfoot’s review)
both employing the 1889 third edition. Nott allows the music
more time to breathe than any other version that I know, even
allowing for the fact that he employs the longer first edition,
taking 22:34, and he doesn’t seem a minute too long.
Nott’s scherzo is ziemlich schnell, fairly fast, as instructed:
this offers a real contrast with the preceding movement, where
he has allowed the music time to breathe, while the allegro
finale blazes out as a real tour de force.
The Bamberg players sound fully the equal of any of their rivals
on other recordings, many of them much better-known. The recording
is very good in the Passionato.com lossless download: there
is also a less expensive mp3 version. I wasn’t able to hear
the 5.1 SACD track, but the CD equivalent should satisfy all
except those who demand surround sound, so this recording may
be confidently recommended, even to those who already have another
version of this symphony.
Even with so many competitors – I was surprised to see over
25 versions currently available – this Tudor recording deserves
a place near the top of the list, especially as it makes such
a strong case for Bruckner’s original thoughts.