One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger              Founding Editor: Rob Barnett              Contact Seen and Heard here

Some items
to consider


.
La Mer Ticciati

Eriks EŠENVALDS

Detlev GLANERT

Jaw-dropping

simply marvellous

Outstanding music

Elite treatment

some joyous Gershwin


Bartok String Quartets
uniquely sensitive


Cantatas for Soprano

 

REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (Linz version, 1866; ed. Nowak) [47:08]
L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Marek Janowski
rec. Victoria Hall, Geneva, June 2011
PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC5186447 SACD [47:08]

Marek Janowski's handling of the C minor Symphony's first movement is bracing, to say the least. The opening marziale theme is brisk, clipped and athletic - not adjectives one usually associates with this composer - and builds to a compulsively swift climax. The brief second subject barely registers as such - it feels more like a transitional passage - and the proclamatory tutti at 2:55, imposing and exciting as it is, also seems hasty. Mind, there is some relaxation for the little woodwind chorale at 3:13, and the development is roomy and evocative. But, for the most part, Janowski turns the music inside out, playing up its overt drama just like any other Romantic symphony, downplaying its mystical and hieratic qualities.

Such an approach, bringing the music's ordinarily subtextual aspects to the forefront, doesn't lack interest; unfortunately, the conductor hasn't consistently realized his conception on its own terms. That second theme is a clue: time and again, in the process of maintaining momentum, Janowski lets climactic tuttis and important structural joins arrive practically unacknowledged, marked by little sense of weight or importance. If you're going to play this as abstract, rather than metaphysical, music, you'd better be sure to project the shape of the piece; this Janowski doesn't do.

The two middle movements are more conventional in spirit. Much of the Adagio flows more like an Andante, but it maintains the right sense of spaciousness and tonal weight. A lovely aspirational feeling emerges from the opening paragraph, and Janowski supplies an undulating lift to groups of short notes, particularly in the second theme. He then provides a nice jolt by beginning the volatile, propulsive Scherzo attacca, taking care to shape the phrases as it rolls along. The Trio takes a bar or two to come into focus, but gradually blossoms into full, expansive tone, after which the Scherzo's return is, again, startling.

The Finale, unfortunately, is a write-off. It starts well, with a weighty, imposing opening and a gracious second theme, with the syncopated accompaniment falling neatly into place. The development, however, for all the bristling articulations and buzzy trills, gradually degenerates into mindless note-spinning; lacking any sense of direction or overall shape, it becomes pure fustian.

Long ago, discussing the Bruckner Seventh, I described Eliahu Inbal's Frankfurt Radio account (Denon) as sounding "like a technically more polished version of the old Suisse Romande." Well, here's the Geneva ensemble itself playing Bruckner, and sounding like a technically more polished version of itself in its Decca/London heyday. The strings contribute focused tone and crisp articulations in the outer movements; there are a few granulose patches in the Adagio, and the basses have a sclerotic moment now and then, but the tonal density is welcome. The woodwinds have maintained the transparent tone quality of their Decca predecessors and added a touch of sensitivity and nuance to their phrasing: chorale passages, such as the parallel flute chords at 1:55 of the Adagio, are consistently lovely and pure. Brasses are springy, alert, and full-bodied: it's hard to imagine Ansermet's brass section — or, for that matter, Ansermet — coping with Bruckner, but these players have no problem with the writing.

The sound is rich and powerful, with a nice sense of space around those chorales. The tuttis, fortunately, don't turn strident as in some other recent productions. By massing first and second violins on the left, however, the conductor and the engineers have missed an opportunity to clarify their back-and-forth dialogues. A few of the quick brass interjections sound edgy, but this may have inhered in the playing rather than the recording.

Committed Brucknerians may find Janowski's aesthetic eversion of interest; unfortunately, the brainless Finale rules the whole thing out of court. I continue to rely on Haitink (Philips) as a reference for this and the other early symphonies. Among more recent issues - just a few decades, rather than half a century, old - Chailly (Decca), using the later, "Vienna" version of the score, has one of his better outings; some listeners, however, may find Decca's luscious reproduction out of keeping with the composer's austerity.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
 
Previous review (complete set): Dave Billinge

 

 




Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and get a free CD

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical



Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger