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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103 (1872-3; Schalk vers., 1889) [57:54]
Dresden Philharmonic/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
rec. Lucaskirche, Dresden, October 2006 GENUIN GEN87086 [57:54]
When I saw the name of conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos on this issue, it took a minute for me to register just how long I've been seeing it! Decades back, when I was first exploring orchestral music courtesy of New York's excellent circulating library, Frühbeck's EMI recordings of the 1960s and '70s -- ranging from Spanish repertoire to early-twentieth-century classics -- were a regular part of my core listening. This 2006 production, then, can be considered a tribute to the long career of the conductor, who died in 2014.
The performance isn't bad, either. Bruckner wasn't part of Frühbeck's older "core repertoire," but the conductor proves attuned to the style. He plays up the shifts of orchestral texture that mimic the change of organ registrations -- note the transition to the slow movement's second theme. He gives the tuttis their head, but balances their component elements so they're not undifferentiated blasts. Most of the time, he gives equal attention to the music's flow and its breadth, though he favours the former. The Scherzo's repeat, for example, feels subtly faster than its opening statement; the Trio of the same movement begins slightly early. Still, there's enough space around the notes, so the music carries a sense of importance without sounding inflated.
The string eighth-notes at the start set a nice, steady pulse, though the trumpet's first note doesn't cut through the texture. The first group builds "organically," so the tuttis arrive firmly; the second group maintains a cantabile quality even as the textures get busier. In the development, an agogic on the tympani upbeat at 11:42 sets up the "false recapitulation" strongly; the ensuing passage could use more hurtling momentum, but the flashback to the second theme is a sweet reminiscence. The real recap, at 14:39, is calmer, more settled than was the opening. Unfortunately, the coda, marked Schnell, is unsatisfying: its tempo feels completely unrelated to anything that preceded it.
The dignified Adagio, "quasi Andante" as requested, emphasizes flow over breadth. The string accents are both round and penetrating; the pianissimos seem louder than that, but the tone is clean, not grainy. In the second group, the violin syncopations provide an appropriate forward nudge, even though some of them seem to lag. The players nail the movement's trickiest detail: the third theme's sixteenth-note "tail," with the flute's rubato bringing out its searching quality; the clarinet and the violins don't match this in their turn, but still shape it with purpose. The big restatement at 8:44 unfolds easily, with a nice interplay of cross-rhythms, though the fff climax at 12:16 comes a bit too easily, with no particular emphasis. The final winding-down is straightforward and serene.
The Scherzo, properly mysterious at first, goes at a relaxed, not pushed, pace that makes the tutti outbursts, with their weighty brass chords, unusually ominous. The graceful second group offers a welcome contrast; the rustic Trio is pointed and genial. The Finale's quiet, energetic start explodes into volatile tuttis; the second group is strongly marked and bucolic, with the brass registering melodically, not just as chordal filler. After the development's turbulence, the second-group recap brings full daylight, only to be dispelled by the abrupt, menacing tutti at 10:39.
The conductor draws beautiful playing from the Dresden Philharmonie. The strings are generally warm and soft-grained, though they're capable of rugged accents when needed, as at 8:06 of the Adagio. The principal reeds are polished if less tonally distinctive, and they phrase sensitively; the horn solos are poised, and the brass choir is full-throated. The recording is crisply registered, though a conspicuous overhang, noticeable in the general pauses, renders the high trumpets overbright, and the tympani becloud the textures in tutti.
If you are, or were, a Frühbeck fan, you could do worse for a memento, especially since many of those EMI recordings I mentioned are caught in digital limbo. The Bruckner is good, though it's worth hunting down Böhm's Vienna recording (Decca).
Stephen Francis Vasta Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and pianist.