It is probably true that the Second Symphony is unlikely to
achieve the fame and popularity - if that is an appropriate
word to use in relation to Bruckner - of the later symphonies.
Having said that, it is a substantial work lasting more than
an hour. It has a magnificent sweep of concentration, a characteristic
that is well delivered in this performance. What is lacking
is that sense of epic scale that Bruckner created as he grew
older and more experienced and which can be heard assertively
in symphonies such as the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth. He did
however return to the score of the Second later on and made
revisions; Venzago has opted for the 1877 version.
Bruckner composed his Symphony No. 2 between October 1871 and
September 1872. He made various revisions before the first performance,
given on 26 October 1873, when he conducted the Vienna Philharmonic.
Then he made other changes for a performance in 1876, and yet
more in 1877 and 1892. William Carragan’s 2005 critical
edition for the Bruckner Society attempts to come as close as
possible to the original of 1872. The score calls for two each
of flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, four horns, two trumpets,
three trombones, timpani, and strings.
Mario Venzago has recorded several Bruckner symphonies in this
cycle for CPO, the other orchestras thus far being the Tapiola
Sinfonietta and the Basle
Symphony. His relationship with the Northern Sinfonia as
principal conductor led to this recording. It was made recently
at The Sage, Gateshead. Employing what is essentially a chamber
orchestra in Bruckner may lead to a few raised eyebrows. That
said, Thomas Dausgaard has successfully conducted the Danish
Chamber Orchestra in this symphony (BIS-SACD-1829). As we can
now hear, the fluency of Bruckner’s invention is well
represented by a more lyrical approach which seems to be released
by chamber forces.
Perhaps the issue is that we tend too readily to consider the
early Bruckner symphonies from the wrong direction, from the
perspective of the great masterpieces from later in his life,
rather than from the inheritance of Austro-German symphonies
from the previous generation, for example Mendelssohn and Schumann.
Venzago’s interpretation certainly puts these issues on
the agenda, and the music is none the worse for it. That said,
it is a little surprising that he did not opt for the first
version of the score which has been so lovingly recreated by
William Carragan. To hear that try Georg Tintner’s Naxos
recording with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland (8.554006)
or as part of a Naxos boxed set (review
Venzago allows vibrato only sparingly and this gives the music
a special urgency and a natural intimacy when the dynamic is
restrained. In what appears to be same edition of the score
his 56 minutes knocks a full seven minutes off the timing achieved
by Otmar Suitner in the latter’s terrific live performance
with the NHK Orchestra in Tokyo (King International KKC 2009-10).
Venzago’s approach is equally valid, and once either performance
begins the listener is drawn in and the music sounds as though
it could not possibly be otherwise.
Anyone acquiring this well engineered new recording of the symphony
will likely find its lighter style hugely satisfying, and it
certainly does justice to Bruckner’s vision.
Masterwork Index: Bruckner