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Anton BRUCKNER (1824 -1896)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103 ‘Wagner’ (original version of 1873) [71.45]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
rec. live 21st September 2008 Semperoper, Dresden
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden - Volume 39
PROFIL PH12011 [72.01]

In 1873 Anton Bruckner travelled to Bayreuth to meet his hero Richard Wagner, who agreed to be the dedicatee of the Third Symphony. The score was duly marked Dedicated toThe Master, Richard Wagner, in deepest respect’. Often referred to as the “WagnerSymphony”, with his Third Symphony Bruckner paid homage to Wagner with the original 1873 score elaborated with quotations, which echo motifs from Wagner’s Die Walküre; Tristan und Isolde; Die Meistersinger and Tannhäuser.

One of the oldest orchestras in the world, the Staatskapelle Dresden has a long and continuing tradition of performing Bruckner, which began back in 1885 by performing the Third Symphony under Ernst von Schuch at the Semperoper, using the second version from 1877. The Semperoper concerts of Bruckner’s Third Symphony under Yannick Nézet-Séguin marked the 460th jubilee, on the 22nd September 2008, of the orchestra’s founding in 1548 by Prince Elector Moritz von Sachsen.

Nézet-Séguin made his debut with the Staatskapelle Dresden in October 2006, aged 31 years. Two years later he was entrusted with the concerts, marking both its 460th jubilee and the 150th anniversary of its subscription concerts, and the Bruckner Third Symphony was programmed alongside the Brahms Double Concerto played by soloists Julian Rachlin and Mischa Maisky. It was decided to use the rarely played Urfassung of the Third Symphony, which had been posthumously premièred in 1946 by the Staatskapelle and had since fallen out of its repertoire. The substantial length of the 1873 original version, in excess of 2,000 bars, is often a reason given for sidestepping the score. For example, two recent releases of live recordings of the 1889 version edited by Nowak from the Münchner Philharmoniker/Lorin Maazel on Sony and London Philharmonic Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski on LPO take around twelve and fifteen minutes less to perform. Nézet-Séguin continues to perform the original version of the Third Symphony and in 2014 released a studio recording with the Orchestre Métropolitain on Atma Classique.

The first version was completed in 1873, but Bruckner had severe problems in obtaining a first performance, with difficulties arising at every turn. Finally, in 1877 in Vienna, it received its première, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Bruckner on the podium, using a significantly revised second version. It is thought that Bruckner was not a highly competent conductor, and sadly the performance was a disaster with many of the audience leaving before the end, followed by critical disapproval and the inevitable humiliation for the composer. Bruckner gave the symphony, his “problem child”, considerable revision during his career compressing the score, and removing many of the Wagner quotations. It is the often performed 1889 version, sometimes described as the composer’s final thoughts, that was subsequently published by Leopold Nowak in 1959. It wasn’t until 1977 that the original 1873 version was published; over a century after it was written. In recent years there has been a slow but sure increase in performing and recording the original version with accounts from most notably Inbal/Teldec; Norrington/EMI and Hänssler Classic; Nagano/Harmonia Mundi; Tintner/Naxos; Young/Oehms; Nott/Tudor and Blomstedt/ Querstand. I did wonder if Gerd Schaller with the Philharmonie Festiva would use the original, but it was the previously unrecorded 1874 version edited by William Carragan; described as a variant of the 1873 version.

In 1944 the printing plates of the Urtext of the Third Symphony of 1873, which musicologist Robert Haas had painstakingly revised, suffered bomb damage in Leipzig before it could be printed. With the city of Dresden in ruins and its Semperoper home destroyed, the Staatskapelle was forced to use for its concerts the few suitable buildings around the city left standing. Conductor Joseph Keilberth, who had become Staatskapelle Generalmusikdirektor in 1945, advocated using Bruckner’s original versions of the symphonies. Thankfully the Staatskapelle under Keilberth was able to perform the original version of the Third Symphony with a score taken from some proof copies, which had survived the destruction. To mark the fifty year anniversary of Bruckner’s death Keilberth in December 1946 conducted the Staatskapelle in the première of the original version of the Third Symphony at Dresden’s Kurhaus Bühlau.

Recorded here is the Semperoper concert on 21st September 2008 given by the Staatskapelle with Yannick Nézet-Séguin on the podium. Nézet-Séguin’s affirmation of the grandeur of this music soon becomes evident. With unyielding control throughout, his assured approach keeps a firm grip on the music’s undulating structure and orchestral balance, all the while feeling fresh and creating striking tone colours. Setting the tone in the opening movement with Nézet-Séguin is the intrepid opening trumpet theme, consummate in breadth and potency, achieving impeccable playing from his Dresden players. Providing a resolute forward momentum that feels exemplary, Nézet-Séguin maintains a gripping tension throughout. Spiritually consoling, the treasurable second movement Adagio is gloriously performed by the Staatskapelle with all the grandeur of a magnificent scene of Alpine peaks. Understood to be inspired by the death of Bruckner’s mother the undertow to this Adagio could easily be an expression of Bruckner’s unreciprocated romantic infatuations. Nézet-Séguin’s Scherzo contains a sense of restlessness with exhilarating climaxes, contrasted with an enchantingly poised Austrian Ländler. Gratifying is the vivacity and nobility which Nézet-Séguin imparts on the thrilling climaxes in the concluding movement, whilst sustaining an especially compelling impetus. I couldn’t help going back to the remarkable section, so radiantly played, where the carefree Polka is heard over the serious Chorale. In truth I rather miss the catchy, rather flirty staccato given to this Polka passage that is noticeably evident in the later 1889 version; just one of many alterations from the original.

Recorded live in the wonderful acoustic of the Semperoper I am pleased with the clear and well balanced sound. Some very slight audience noise is audible, but nothing too distracting. Not surprisingly at the conclusion the audience erupts into great applause. The notes in the substantial booklet, containing several essays, is up to the usual scholarly standard I have come to expect from the Profil label.

This is the only recording of the Third Symphony I have, performed in the original 1873 version. Of the other accounts I have, using the so called third version of 1889, undoubtedly the most rewarding performance is from Günter Wand and the NDR Sinfonieorchester. A master of his art and a Bruckner specialist, Wand acknowledges the grandeur of the score with a noble and compelling reading, recorded live in 1985 at Hamburg Musikhalle on RCA Red Seal. With the LPO, Stanisław Skrowaczewski was recorded live in concert in 2014 at the Royal Festival Hall, London. With taut control throughout, Skrowaczewski provides an awe-inspiring sense of structure, honed from decades of experience. There is the thrilling live 2012 account from the Münchener Philharmoniker under Lorin Maazel, recorded at the Philharmonie, Munich on Sony. Still lodged in the memory is a captivating performance I reported from last summer by the HR-Sinfonieorchester under Paavo Järvi, with the version of 1889 at the Semperoper as part of the 2014 Dresden Music Festival.

Revelatory is the word I would use to describe this live 2008 recording of the original 1873 version of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3, with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Yannick Nézet-Séguin giving an awe-inspiring performance. It is astonishing that it has taken eight years before its release, but it’s a certainty to be one of my Records of the Year for 2016.

Michael Cookson



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