Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1889 version) [57:12]
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Sylvain Cambreling
rec. Freiburg, Konzerthaus, 9 November 2010
GLOR CLASSICS GC10391 [57:12]

In whichever version (1873, 1877 or 1889) Bruckner’s Third is a marvellous symphony. It proclaims the full range and power of his genius. Sylvain Cambreling opts for the third version, made during the composer’s period of ‘revision mania’. This was in the wake of the conductor Hermann Levi’s rejection of the first version of the Eighth Symphony in 1887. The Third had essentially been composed some fifteen years before. In 1889 as previously in 1877 the revisions led to a shortening of the score and in particular of the finale. The symphony was dedicated to Richard Wagner, whom Bruckner called ‘the Master’. Various Wagner quotations were also excised from the revisions. 

Traversing the finale’s structure is therefore a particular challenge. It is one that this performance succeeds in making pretty successfully. The choices of tempi are well articulated, and though one may cavil at the occasional detail, the general effect is altogether commendable, as also is the longer-term vision. Cambreling possesses an imaginative mastery of orchestral balance, which is frequently penetrating in its observation of detail. For example, the lyrical gesangperiode of the first movement can seldom have been articulated with more loving care, with attendant harmonic warmth and attention to subtleties of phrasing; yet the results generate a feeling of the utmost spontaneity.

As a Bruckner acoustic the Konzerthaus in Freiburg sounds well here, so all praise to the producer and engineer, Bernhard Mangold-Märkel and Klaus-Dieter Hesse. The SWR playing is dedicated and disciplined, delivering a rich tone when required, along with complete accuracy of ensemble. Moreover the clarity of the recording and the subtlety of the dynamic range are remarkable. Such things must not be taken for granted, and both the pianissimo playing and the climaxes are striking in their effect.
In Bruckner’s symphonies capturing the right sound counts for so much, and for rather more than might be the case with the music of other orchestral composers. Phrases need to have the chance to breathe, and the string sound needs to expand resonantly. These things contribute significantly to the experience offered to the listener in recorded performances. The effectiveness of this new recording is heard to magnificent advantage, for example, in moments such as the powerful first movement climax that releases the recapitulation.

As far as the interpretation is concerned, there are inevitably some questions, but there can be no doubt that Cambreling handles the intricacies with great insight and understanding. As with so many Bruckner performances, he can sometimes get drawn into the excitement of the occasion. For example, the first movement coda to my mind becomes too much of a stretto effect, as if the music is dashing through to the finishing tape. It is exciting, to be sure, and the orchestral playing justifies the risk, but less haste and more sonority is in the long run more satisfying.
However, it would be wrong to suggest that this interpretation is indulgent or distorted. In what has become a crowded market-place the abundant subtleties of Cambreling’s performance, combined with a state of the art recording, make this a most satisfying experience in which the many subtleties of Bruckner’s orchestration are heard to splendid effect.
Terry Barfoot 

Masterwork Index: Bruckner Symphony 3

Abundant subtleties make this a most satisfying experience.