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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 0 in D minor (1869)
Philharmoniker Hamburg/Simone Young
rec. Laeiszhalle, Hamburg, 20-21 May 2012
OEHMS CLASSICS OC685 [49:41]

The curious numbering of Bruckner's Symphony No. 0 would imply that its composition preceded his First (1868). Yet its date is ambiguous, and it is generally agreed that its genesis was in 1863. It was substantially revised into its definitive form in 1869, after he had made the significant acquaintance of Beethoven's Ninth and after he had completed his own First Symphony. In its first rehearsal by the Vienna Philharmonic, the conductor Otto Dessoff, upon examining the first movement of the D minor Symphony, asked where the main theme was. This was all it took for the sensitive composer to shelve the work until the penultimate year of his life. Although reluctant to include it in his official canon, he was hesitant to discard it altogether and thus appended the curious designation for which it is famous, along with the words ‘only an attempt’.
 
The Beethoven influence is immediately apparent. The first movement, which is in the same key as Beethoven’s Ninth, opens with a violin figuration based on the D minor chord, played against a phrase in the cellos and basses. This material is expanded in a typically Brucknerian manner, and the way that it is shaped by the conductor will have long-term implications for the performance. In this regard it is interesting to compare Simone Young’s interpretation with, say, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski (various issues, including Oehms Classics OC209). She opts for a slower tempo and the music exudes an immediately darker expressive tone. The two performances are very different, though equally valid. The second subject, a characteristic yearning theme, extends the range because it is far up in the treble and shared between the first and second violins.
 
In the Andante Young captures the essence of Bruckner’s hushed, quasi-religious mood, while the Scherzo, a Presto, is bold and incisive, with stamping rhythms and great virility. The Finale opens amid a tense mood, the recording engineers capturing the atmosphere in this live recording from Hamburg. In due course there comes the release of a powerful Allegro vivace in which the rich texture of the orchestration combines with a number of typically glowing themes, all strongly articulated by Young’s well-judged phrasing. The playing of the Hamburg Orchestra is impressive, in particular the dramatic thrust of the accented leap from a high B flat to a trill on G sharp the octave below. This is perhaps the symphony’s greatest moment of genius, and it makes its mark here. In this live performance the music reaches a triumphant affirmation in a resplendent D major tonality.
 
Some conductors who embark upon a recorded Bruckner odyssey choose not to include the Symphony No. 0. This is a pity, and Simone Young makes a strong case for this splendid work, and in doing so further establishes her credentials as an important interpreter of this great symphonist’s art.
 
Terry Barfoot 

Masterwork Index: Bruckner 0