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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor (1877 revised version, ed. Carragan)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Marek Janowski
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, October 2012
DDD/DSD Stereo/Surround
PENTATONE PTC 5186448 [54:55]

This is the penultimate instalment in Janowski's Bruckner cycle. His Bruckner divides the critics, and the present performance will no doubt continue the trend.
 
In terms of edition, Janowski opts for that of the Neue Bruckner Ausgabe of the 1877 version edited by William Carragan. There are, notoriously, a number of different editions: 1871/2, 1873, 1876, 1877 and editions by Haas in 1938 and Novak in 1965.
 
The sound offered by the Pentatone engineers is terrific, just what Bruckner needs in its sense of space and cleanliness. The generosity of tone of the lower strings is caught perfectly. Janowski's Bruckner seems to come from the opposite pole to, say, Wand's large-scale unfoldings. So it is that one delights time and time again in the moment, be it the superb woodwind or tenderly phrased melodic fragments, without that sense of inevitability so necessary to truly successful Bruckner performance.
 
The Adagio, placed third in the 1871/72 version but later second, is very delicate, with great control in evidence from all players and seems on a different level. Under Janowski, it sounds perfectly Brucknerian and perfectly paced. Phrases are moulded tenderly by the string players, and the actual tone of the OSR's string body is magnificent. The Scherzo is deliberately heavy, slower than most, perhaps with an intended rustic, slightly stumbling gait; in contrast the Trio is tender.
 
The finale exemplifies everything about this reading perfectly. The playful, almost skittish opening is excellent, and everything flows beautifully - despite a slightly odd trumpet balance around 3'10-20. There is beautiful delicacy here, too. However the large paragraphing, the longer-range tonal bearing of Brucknerians of the ilk of Wand is just not here. The result is that, despite the exciting close, the imposing nature of the piece fails to register properly.
 
A very different approach is offered by Horst Stein, using the Haas edition with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1973; currently on Decca Eloquence 442 8557. Stein's first movement sounds almost like a 33rpm played at 45rpm if played immediately after Janowski; flow is also more pronounced in the slow movement. The Scherzo is hugely fast and fierce, although the recording contributes to that impression. On the other hand, the opening of the finale is so fast it comes across as a buzzing. Unfortunately Janowski is unable to carry the finale through and its structural integrity slips. Perhaps it is Skrowaczewski in his Saarbrücken cycle (using the 1877 score, but pre-Carragan) who captures the essence of the piece best. Typically, Skrowaczewski refuses to linger but instead presents a lean, taut reading that places the Second firmly in Bruckner's symphonic canon with no apologies necessary.
 
The minefield of Bruckner editions, as far as the Second symphony is concerned, is well explained in an article by Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs. Enthusiasts of SACD sound will not be disappointed; avid Brucknerians - is there any other kind? - might be harder to please.
 
Colin Clarke

Masterwork Index: Bruckner symphony 2