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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor, WAB 103 (Original version, 1873; ed. Nowak)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. 17-21 June 2019, Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
BIS SACD BIS-2464 [56:35]

In previous exchanges on the Message Board it was suggested that this recording could stand alongside other top choices for the earliest version of Bruckner’s Third Symphony such as that by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the Staatskapelle Dresden and Gerd Schaller's recording of the unpublished 1874 Carragan edition I reviewed in January 2017. I would add Simone Young’s fine 2006 recording and Inbal’s pioneering account from 1982 to that list of recommendable versions.

A striking feature of this new recording is its brevity. Admittedly, one would hardly expect this to rival Ballot’s extraordinary 87 minutes but many of the mainstream recommendations hover around the seventy-minute mark and I note that in a previous review I wrote disparagingly of “Sir Roger Norrington’s unseemly, brisk 57 minutes” – exactly the same length as this from Dausgaard. I have long accepted that this most revised of symphonies can be enjoyed in any one of its various incarnations but confess that I approached this latest recording with a degree of apprehension. I first read the booklet notes by Horst A. Scholz, which are informative and helpful regarding the performance history and musical structure of the symphony, particularly in regard to its relationship with Beethoven’s Ninth, but they gave me no clue as to the conductor’s philosophy or intent – so the only thing to do was listen with an open mind.

Well, this open mind was pretty soon closed by the absurd, breakneck pace of the opening and the perfunctory nature of the statement of the first theme. Not a hint of mystery – just scurrying panic then dismissal. I absolutely hate it; what is so extraordinary is the combination of unseemly haste with excessive legato so even the potential angularity and emphasis of those supposedly bold orchestral fanfares are eradicated. The longer I listened the more slack-jawed I became. Dausgaard’s approach is the exact antithesis of everything I understand Bruckner’s music to be: grand, patient, lyrical and transcendent. Dausgaard has clearly set out to upset every Brucknerian apple cart in sight; this first movement is relentlessly slick and self-consciously iconoclastic…until suddenly we come to an oasis of calm twelve minutes in, where the Wagner allusions are gently intoned before a predictably frenzied recapitulation. That tranquil interlude gives the game away: Dausgaard actually wants the chaotic mood that characterises his interpretation; it is calculatedly deliberate.

The Adagio is perfunctory and shies away from anything approaching sublimity or repose, although here at least Dausgaard does not attempt to break any speed records – he just avoids engaging with anything that smacks of the metaphysical. As a listener, I remain wholly unmoved by it until the some superficially exciting momentum is generated in the last two minutes. The Scherzo is fast but not egregiously so; however, it sounds more like a Dance of the Clowns than a Bacchic orgy, being devoid of the predatory menace which should stiffen it. It could do with some of the wildness we hear in first movement being imported into it. The Trio trips by harmlessly then Dausgaard finds more energy for the return to the main scherzo theme. The finale is of course taken at breakneck speed; sometimes a hint of charm manages to emerge despite the precipitate tempo but mostly we are in a breathless rush to cross the finishing line to the braying cheers of the D major trumpet.

It has been a long time since I heard a recording of a canonic, mainstream symphony that I so much disliked. I suppose I should applaud Daugaard for trying something different, but I am not convinced that the Brucknerian wheel needs re-inventing; others who seek novelty may feel differently.

Ralph Moore
Previous review: David Phipps

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