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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony in F minor, 'Studiensinfonie' (1863) WAB 99
Philharmoniker Hamburg/Simone Young
rec. live, 22-26 February 2013, Laeiszhalle, Hamburg

There are eleven Bruckner symphonies in all. In addition to the numbered nine he composed and subsequently withdrew two scores: the 'Symphony No 0' in D minor (1869) and this present F minor symphony which he wrote between March and May 1863.

In an interesting booklet note Michael Lewin argues that Bruckner withdrew the D minor work, which actually post-dates the Symphony No 1, 'because he recognised that the path from his 1st Symphony could no longer be continued in this form.' He goes on to point out that Bruckner himself dismissed the F minor score as an example of school work. Both the F minor and D minor scores are rarely heard today except as part of some - but by no means all - Bruckner symphony cycles on disc. Simone Young has given us the D minor symphony already (review) and I've now caught up with her account of the 'Studiensinfonie', a title coined by Leopold Nowak - some people refer to it, alternatively, as the 'Symphony 00'.

The F minor Symphony was not performed until 1924, the year in which the score was published; perhaps its appearance then was connected to the composer's centenary. Michael Lewis justly observes that the influences of Wagner, which carried such weight later in Bruckner's career, are not evident here - it was too soon; instead the music is indebted to Mendelssohn and Schumann. The Schumann influence is especially evident, it seems to me, in the first movement, though his shadow hovers over all the movements with the possible exception of the scherzo.

The first movement - Allegro molto vivace - is constructed round three themes, all of which are heard in the first few minutes. There's no introduction; instead the first theme is presented at once. The music is quite light in tone - strings and woodwind predominate - and the character is genial. It may be imperfect by comparison with the mature symphonies but each time I've listened to this movement I've found it very attractive, an impression that's helped greatly by the alert and excellent playing of the Philharmoniker Hamburg. Had Bruckner's symphonic music carried on in this vein then I think we should unhesitatingly place him in a line that runs from Mendelssohn and Schumann through Bruckner to Brahms and Dvořák. There's something of a premonition of later Bruckner in the closing bars and particularly in the brass writing in this passage.

Two themes form the basis for the slow movement, which is marked Andante molto. This movement comes nowhere near the breadth and depth of Bruckner's great slow movements which lay in the future. Yet I hope I'm not being fanciful - or listening with the benefit of hindsight - in believing that one can detect that the composer of this music would be capable, in due course, of thinking on a much broader scale. The movement opens promisingly and the episode that starts around 6:30 and runs to 8:40 does show signs of the mastery that was to come in later years. Twice we hear passages in which one solo woodwind instrument after another weaves quite elaborate decoration around the main material which is being presented on the strings; these strike me as atypical of mature Bruckner, though very interesting to hear. Michael Lewin observes that in this movement 'the [two] themes merely circle round themselves; in his later works, Bruckner typically conceives the themes of his slow movements as leading towards a dramatic climax.' I must confess that I wasn't so conscious of the themes 'circling' but I completely agree that the movement doesn't achieve a memorable and inevitable climax, which is surely a sign of lack of experience - or, perhaps, symphonic confidence - on Bruckner's part.

The energetic third movement seems to pre-figure future Bruckner scherzos. The trio, in which the woodwind are prominent, seems somewhat inconsequential. I have to admit that the scherzo movements in one or two of the later symphonies come close to outstaying their welcome so far as I'm concerned. That's not the case here: the movement is over and done with in less than six minutes.

The finale strikes me as being earnest and worthy but the music doesn't exactly hold me spellbound. Indeed I had the impression that the symphony has rather run out of steam. In symphonies 4 - 8 one feels that the finale is where the work has been heading but that's not the case here. I'd agree with the verdict of Michael Lewin that this is the weakest movement.

The F minor symphony is by no means the finished Brucknerian article but it's far from negligible and I think it's well worth hearing. Here it benefits from committed advocacy from Simone Young and her accomplished orchestra. The playing is polished and Ms Young makes a strong case for the work. The SACD recording presents the performance in warm yet clear and very pleasing sound. The playing time is ungenerous and it might have been preferable to present this symphony as a two-disc set, coupled with one of the better-known later symphonies.

Michael Lewin hits the nail on the head when he says in his notes that hearing this symphony 'is an encounter that one would no longer actually wish to forego, from time to time.' The symphony is a valuable part of this fine Bruckner cycle.

John Quinn

The Simone Young Bruckner cycle on MusicWeb International:-
Symphony No 0 (Original version 1869)
Symphony No 1 (Original version 1865/66)
Symphony No 2 (Original version 1872)
Symphony No 3 (Original version 1873)
Symphony No 4 (Original version 1874)
Symphony No 6 (1881)
Symphony No 8 (Original version 1887)


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