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Anton BRUCKNER (1824 -1896)
Symphony No.3 in d minor, WAB103 ‘Wagner’ (original version, 1873) [72:01]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. live Semperoper, Dresden, 21 September 2008. DDD.
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden: Volume 39

Profil already had Klaus Tennstedt’s recording of the 1889 Nowak edition (PH04093). Kevin Sutton greatly liked that – review – so it’s appropriate that they now offer the longer 1873 original in a recording which has already been made Recording of the Month by Michael Cookson, who is also predicting Recording of the Year status.

As usual with Bruckner symphonies there’s a complicated history of revision and re-revision: the Third is the most complex of all. Most of the best recordings use the 1877 or 1889 version, including Bernard Haitink with the Vienna Philharmonic on a splendid bargain version (1877, with Symphony No.8, Decca Duo 4705342, download only, available from Presto – see here for a review of the CD version), so my benchmark has to be Yannick Nézet-Séguin himself on an Atma recording (ACD22700, available as a 24-bit download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com). I’ve also listened again to Jonathan Nott on Tudor 7133, which I reviewed and liked back in 2010. (Ignore the links in that review: it’s now download only, available from eclassical.com). Though the great authority Deryck Cooke ruled that 1877 was the first legitimate version, with 1873 and 1874 not alternatives but discarded working versions, there is a strong case for performing the 1873 and Nézet-Séguin makes it.

I wrote in 2010 that Nott allowed the music more time to breathe than most, but it’s apparent from the start that Nézet-Séguin is even more expansive, taking almost ten minutes longer than Nott’s 62:57. Though released earlier, his Atma recording with the Canadian Orchestra Métropolitain was made more recently, in 2014. For whatever reason, perhaps because the orchestra don’t pack the same weight as the Staatskapelle with their immense experience of performing Bruckner, including the 1873 Urfassung of No.3, his tempi were not quite as broad.

I’ve also been listening again to the compromise edition recorded by the BBC Scottish SO and Osmo Vänskä of the 1877 edition, the first published edition, but with a manuscript version of the Adagio as performed at the work’s première. (CDH55474). Daniel Barenboim also uses the 1877 edition on his own download-only Peral label – DL News 2014/7.

On first listening, without making any comparisons, I found Nézet-Séguin on Profil totally convincing. Then I read Michael Cookson’s review and found myself agreeing with him to such an extent as to make further comment largely superfluous, especially as he gives details of the relationship of the 1873 score to the various revisions and movement-by-movement analysis. I completely share his surprise that we have had to wait eight years for this recording to surface.

Listening again to the other versions mentioned, it just remains to note that Nézet-Séguin’s second movement Adagio is the longest of the 1873 versions under comparison, at 20:44. In his 2014 recording this was shortened to 17:56, which is just seconds longer than Nott’s 17:50. Vänskä takes 21:04 for the 1876 version of this movement and Simone Young (Oehms OC624, 1873 version) takes 19:20 in a version which didn’t convince Gary Higginson, especially for the way in which the conductor ‘ambles’ through this movement – review. Only Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca Duo – see above) could get away with a fast tempo of 16:48 for this movement in the (admittedly shorter) 1877 version without sounding hurried.

I know that many readers greatly dislike applause at the end – I rather like it – but this is the only occasion on which I was aware of the live audience. If you are one of those who hates applause – and you can’t edit this out short of ripping the CD and using an editing suite – you may prefer this conductor’s Atma studio recording, though the orchestra doesn’t have the heft of the Staatskapelle. Nor does the Bamberg Orchestra for Nott, though that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of that recording – it used to come as a hybrid SACD, if you can still find a copy, though the download from eclassical.com is 16-bit only (and minus booklet).

The booklet for the new recording is so large that Profil have had to use a double-size case, the kind that can hold four CDs, just to house it. That’s a nuisance when storage is as much at a premium as it is for me but there is a great deal of valuable information in the booklet – and even more in German online – if you can access it with the right password.

Those seeking the 1877 version will be well satisfied with Bernard Haitink if they don’t mind downloading – at a very reasonable price, too. All in all, the 1877 version is probably the best choice when the 1889 revision was made against the advice of Mahler and others. Ultimately Haitink or Vänksä in that version would have to be my Desert Island choice, even in preference to Mariss Jansons’ live recording of the 1889 version with the Concertgebouw, coupled with the ever-popular No.4 on another inexpensive twofer with No.4 (RCO09002 – DL News 2014/7). Fortunately I don’t have to make that stark choice and Nézet-Séguin’s new Profil recording and Nott’s on Tudor, both in the 1873 version, will continue to be part of my listening schedule too.

Brian Wilson

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson (Recording of the Month) ~ Ralph Moore


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