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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103 ‘Wagner’ (1888/89 version, edited Nowak) [60.37]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser, Overture (1845) [15.11]
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons
rec. live June 2016 Gewandhaus, Leipzig
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 7208 [75.48]

The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig and Andris Nelsons, now installed as Gewandhauskapellmeister, have released their debut album for Deutsche Grammophon featuring Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3. With the Gewandhausorchester Bruckner experienced his greatest ever success at the première of the Seventh Symphony given under Arthur Nikisch at Leipzig in 1884. According to the press release this is the first volume of a new series of the complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies.

Included on this release from the same 2016 Gewandhaus concert programme is Wagner’s Tannhäuser Overture which Nelsons “sees as an organic pairing.” Pairing the Bruckner symphonies with Wagner overtures and orchestral excerpts from his operas will continue throughout this series. Born in Leipzig Wagner attended a number of performances of his works at the Gewandhaus. Wagner was Bruckner’s music idol and hearing a performance of the opera Tannhäuser under Otto Kitzler at Linz Municipal Theatre in 1863 was a major inspiration in the Austrian’s composing career. On the same Gewandhaus concert programme, but not included on this release owing to lack of space, was Wagner’s Vorspiel und Isoldes Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.

In 1873 Anton Bruckner travelled to Villa Wahnfried at 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’. Sometimes referred to as the ‘WagnerSymphony’ with his Third Symphony Bruckner paid homage to Wagner as his original 1873 score is elaborated with quotations which echo motifs from Wagner’s Die Walküre; Tristan und Isolde; Die Meistersinger and Tannhäuser.

Bruckner completed his first version of the Third Symphony in 1873 but 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 under Bruckner’s baton. 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 humiliation and the inevitable critical disapproval. Bruckner gave the score considerable revision and it is the 1889 version that Andris Nelsons conducts here. This third edition of 1889, often described as the composer’s final thoughts, was subsequently published by Leopold Nowak in 1959.

With a strong sense of emotional involvement Nelsons breathes life into this wonderful score directing a performance of elevated quality. With ideal weight the cultured playing of the Gewandhausorchester has a steadfast unity of a grade rarely achieved but it never comes at the cost of expression. Impressive too is how Nelsons shapes the phrases with such authority. Glorious too is the quality of the intonation and vibrant tone colour achieved by the orchestra, conspicuously the brass section with its gleaming golden hue. There is a sense that Nelsons is making every note count, maybe the price paid for the dramatic tension not quite attaining the level achieved by the NDR SO/Günter Wand on Profil. In the opening movement Nelsons conveys a strong feeling of grandeur, bold and positive in mood providing a convincing forward momentum. The treasurable second movement Adagio is exquisitely performed by the Leipzig players with Nelsons setting an ideal pace. Sometimes said to be inspired by the death of Bruckner’s mother I always think of this movement as Bruckner’s expression of unreciprocated love for a girl with whom he became infatuated. Nelsons’ uplifting Scherzo in the dramatic passages is punchy in its urgency and contrasts with the delightful, feathery Austrian Ländler. It’s easy to savour the sense of Alpine majesty that Nelsons creates in the remarkable final movement, sustaining an especially splendid flow which feels persuasive. The section with the joyous Polka over the solemn Chorale sounds especially impressive and after the conclusion of the symphony I can’t resist repeating this section again.

The most satisfying recording I have heard of the Third Symphony using the popular third and final version of 1888/89 (edited Nowak, 1959) is played by the NDR Sinfonieorchester under Günter Wand recorded live in 1985 at Hamburg Musikhalle on Profil. A master of his art and a Bruckner specialist, Wand acknowledges the grandeur of the score with a distinguished reading in excellent radio broadcast sound. Still lodged in the memory is a captivating performance I reported from by the HR-Sinfonieorchester under Paavo Järvi with the 1889 version at Semperoper as part of the 2014 Dresden Music Festival. Overall the finest recording of any version I know of the Third Symphony is the live 2008 Semperoper, Dresden recording from the Staatskapelle Dresden under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Using the original version of 1873 (edited Nowak 1977) with its numerous Wagnerian moments Nézet-Séguin directs a performance I find revelatory and awe-inspiring. At the end of the review I have provided some additional recommendations of the Third Symphony.

For Tannhäuser his 1845 opera in three acts Wagner was inspired by the medieval German legend of Tannhäuser a minstrel knight who strayed into the Venusberg and the singing contest held at Wartburg Castle in thirteenth-century Germany. The overture Wagner depicts a tale of conflicting fascination for the sensual, the spiritual and redemption. In a gripping performance Nelsons conducts the Tannhäuser Overture with surefire conviction. The Gewandhausorchester respond to his lead with all the expressive zeal and breath-taking virtuosity which one has come to expect. Exceptional is the velvety legato and tonal beauty of the prominent horns. Nelsons interpretation is first class and reminds me of attending an equally fine performance of the Tannhäuser Overture in 2013 held on the eve of the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth at the Semperoper Dresden. In a programme of Wagner overtures and great tenor opera scenes (sung by Jonas Kaufmann) Christian Thielemann was conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden. In the overture I can clearly recall Thielemann ratcheting up the tension, creating the perfect blend of assurance and sheer drama. Certainly Nelsons is a serious contender to my first choice recording of the Tannhäuser Overture with Klaus Tennstedt providing a thrilling experience conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker in the early 1980s at the Philharmonie, Berlin on EMI Classics.

Recorded live in the renowned Gewandhaus acoustic the engineering team has provided first class sound being vividly clear and especially well balanced. There is virtually no extraneous noise and the applause has been taken out. In the booklet a helpful and informative essay by Jessica Duchen adds to the appeal.

Joining lofty company Nelsons conducts a noble and compelling performance of Bruckner Third Symphony certainly one of the finest committed to disc.
 
Michael Cookson

Previous reviews: Brian Wilson ~ John Quinn
 

Bruckner Third Symphony - Additional recommendations:
Using his favoured version of 1888/89 (edited Nowak 1959) Günter Wand with the NDR Sinfonieorchester in 1992 recorded live from Musikhalle provides another outstanding performance on RCA Victor Red Seal.
Highly convincing with sustained intensity is the 1977 account from Eugen Jochum and the Staatskapelle Dresden. Using the 1889 version Jochum is recorded at Lukaskirche, Dresden on Warner Classics (orig. EMI).
There is the thrilling and engaging live 2012 account of the 1889 version by the Münchener Philharmoniker under Lorin Maazel, recorded at Philharmonie, Munich on Sony.
With the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Stanisław Skrowaczewski employing the 1889 version is recorded live in 2014 at Royal Festival Hall, London. With taut control throughout, Skrowaczewski provides a remarkable sense of structure, honed from decades of experience on LPO own label.
Intense and compelling is the account from Giuseppe Sinopoli conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden in 1990. Sinopoli using the 1877 version (edited Nowak) is recorded at Lukaskirche, Dresden on Deutsche Grammophon.



 

 




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