Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1865/66) Edition Nowak (Linzer Fassung, 1866)
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
rec. 2012/13, Studio MCO5, Hilversum, Holland
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72556 SACD [51:23]
Although the notes identify what Van Zweden plays here as the 1866 Linz version edited by Nowak, I am informed by Ken Ward, editor of the “Bruckner Journal” that this is essentially the 1877 revision, possibly with further alterations beyond that date. As Nowak writes, 'All told, the life span of the Linz version of the symphony extends from 1865 to 1889.' Nowak nonetheless entitled his edition the “1865/66 Version”, but this is not the so-called “original” version, edited by William Carragan, that Schaller and Tintner used. This is not of major significance insofar as the main differences are between the Linz and Vienna versions, the latter being what Bruckner worked on post-1889.
I have not so far been anything other than delighted by anything Jaap van Zweden has recorded. I was surprised to learn that the Scherzo here was recorded a year before the bulk of the work. That does not, as far as I can hear, result in any conceptual disjuncture, yet there are some quite daring features to this interpretation: that previously recorded movement is similar in its fast speed and thrust to Barenboim’s celebrated version with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, while the Adagio, at 16’ 09” is considerably slower than other recordings. In general, however, van Zweden takes a less urgent approach, so that the opening march theme sounds decidedly ominous. This is already grand, heroic Bruckner in the mould of previous interpreters such as Neumann and Paternostro but with none of the restless, agogic distortions that mar Jochum’s reading.
I have always been mystified by the implications of Bruckner nicknaming – mischievously, perhaps? – his First Symphony “Das kecke Beserl” (“The Saucy Maid”); I hear nothing winsome, cheeky or especially rustic in this driven, martial music, a feature enhanced by the manner in which van Zweden builds to a blazing brass and timpani climax in the Allegro. Similarly, the Scherzo has real drive and attack while the Finale, with its finely gauged dynamic extremes, is also fierce and suffused with youthful energy, rather in the manner of earlier Tchaikovsky, even if Wagner is supposed to have been the major influence over Bruckner.
The Adagio is a close cousin in affect to Karajan’s interpretation, even though van Zweden draws out the textures even further to lend greater transparency and Karajan is weightier. The clarity that van Zweden permits to individual instrumental lines is perhaps the inheritance of his background as a lead violinist. This is bright, lithe Bruckner and the recorded sound, which is both resonant and immediate, enhances its impact. The edition chosen here clearly matches van Zweden’s style, as the orchestration of the later Vienna version is denser. If you are new to this symphony, but know any of Bruckner’s later works, do not expect any of those startling pauses or major chorales; this is tight, swiftly modulating, rhythmic music ideally served by the impassioned and impeccable playing of this Dutch orchestra.