Mario Venzago continues his interesting Bruckner cycle for CPO with
a set coupling the Third and Sixth Symphonies. Various orchestras
have been involved in this project and this time both performances
feature the Berne Symphony Orchestra, who give a thoroughly creditable
account of themselves.
The discs are nicely presented in a slimline box, and there are full
programme notes, albeit in tiny print. In an interview the conductor
shares his ideas about Bruckner’s music.
In whichever version (1873, 1877 or 1889) Bruckner’s Third is
a marvellous symphony, which proclaims the full range and power of
his genius. Mario Venzago is an experienced and committed Bruckner
conductor, as previous issues in the series have proved. He has also
shown great concern for choosing the most appropriate edition of each
symphony. This makes it something of a surprise that he has opted
for the third (1889) version of the Third, with its shortened finale.
The recorded sound brings great clarity and a suitable atmosphere;
nowhere more than in the first movement’s opening phase, when
Bruckner so skilfully articulates the evolution of the first subject
through scoring of the utmost imagination. Each section of the Berne
orchestra acquits itself admirably here.
In the slow movement there is a good balance between lyrical flow
and profound expressiveness, and when the strings are required to
glow, they certainly do. The rustic scherzo is also well characterised,
with strong rhythms as in a dance of the earth at one extreme, and
pastoral innocence at the other.
As so often in 19th
century symphonies, the finale is the
most problematic part of the score. There are those who will contend
that only the original 1873 version will do. The 1889 version is more
drastically cut than that from 1877, in which the musical structure
holds up more strongly. To be fair, Venzago makes a strong case for
the shorter span of the 1889 version, with dramatic incident all the
more important therefore. He and his players generate suitable energy
and even vehemence in the first subject, which overall provides probably
the most important aspect of the movement. However, it is the second
theme that warrants the most exact description, since it is a subtle
combination of polka and chorale which Bruckner described with a telling
anecdote: ‘In the tavern there is dancing, while next door the
master lies in his coffin.’ The performance articulates these
aspects very successfully and this adds considerably to the whole
experience. Towards the end of the work the principal theme from the
first movement comes back to make its emphatic point. It confirms
the essential unity of the conception, which it most certainly does
in this fine performance.
Bruckner’s Third Symphony is well served on CD in all three
versions. Among those who have recorded the 1889 version, Günter
Wand and the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (RCA 09026613742
and Sylvain Cambreling and the SWR Symphony Orchestra (Glor Classics
GC10391) are also highly recommendable.
However, this new CPO issue is a 2 CD set, and comment on the Third
Symphony must therefore be linked with comment on the performance
of the Sixth. Alas, this seems to me to be much less successful. This
work is often regarded as being difficult to bring off. If that is
indeed the case Venzago adds further fuel to that particular flame.
Again the recording is good, and so too is the orchestral playing.
Unfortunately there is rhythmic unsteadiness in the first movement,
which begins quickly but later on starts to drag. The phrasing can
misfire too, with some of Bruckner’s most poetic ideas becoming
somehow matter-of-fact;, take, for example, the horns’ pp
rocking figure which swells so majestically towards the final climax.
gains from some refined dynamic shadings, while
the music moves fluently at a mobile tempo. This can work well in
this movement, as Otto Klemperer’s celebrated performance proved
(EMI 4 04296 2). Again too much of the phrasing feels wrong, not least
in the wonderful third theme in funeral march rhythm. This quite misses
the mark here.
The Scherzo is altogether more successful, with abundant detail in
the texture thanks to the splendid recording. The finale succeeds
in generating plenty of drive and energy. Overall, this performance
of the Sixth fails to achieve the vision and eloquence of the conductor’s
other Bruckner performances.
Quite why CPO chose to issue these two symphonies together rather
than individually is hard to fathom. There is no obvious musical reason
for doing so, other than that the same conductor and orchestra are
featured. That is hardly sufficient reason, and even without the mismatch
between the relative merits of the two performances the logic seems
Masterwork Index: Symphony
3 ~~ Symphony