In addition to Bruckners nine mature symphonies, there are two others
which the composer discarded: one in D minor, designated by Bruckner as his
Symphony Number Zero, which is moderately well known, and an
earlier one in F minor, which is scarcely ever played and is referred to
sometimes as Symphony Number Double Zero. The F minor symphony
was written merely as an exercise but it is an enjoyable, unpretentious work
with more to offer the listener than one might expect from a composition
with such an unpromising origin: Bruckner was aged nearly forty and already
a fully-qualified, accomplished composer when he produced this work in 1863,
so nobody should assume from its alternative title of Study Symphony
that this is a score which has been dredged up from his early student days.
In the F minor Symphony, Bruckner was testing his own ability to write a
conventional, large-scale work, and to achieve this he suppressed his stylistic
individuality deliberately, with the result that the character of the music
suggests the composers predecessors such as Weber and (at the start
of the finale) Schumann, more than it suggests Bruckner himself. Its first
recording did not appear until 1972, when EMI issued one, long deleted, by
the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Elyakum Shapirra. To my knowledge,
the only other version released since then is that by Eliahu Inbal on Teldec
with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Even if more recordings of it were available for comparison, one would probably
still find that this modest work allows less scope for subtle variations
in interpretation than do the later symphonies, but Ashkenazys tempi
are so different from Inbals that this basic parameter alone is sufficient
to account for a significant divergence between the two performances. The
most extreme instance of this is in the scherzo, where Ashkenazy is much
slower than Inbal in the main section but much faster than him in the trio,
the tempo relationships chosen by each conductor being thus the reverse of
each other. Ashkenazys is considerably the faster of the two recordings
in the first movement, imparting an airy mood to the music; one might argue
that Inbals heavier approach conforms more closely to what we identify
nowadays as Bruckners characteristic voice, but when one recalls that
the composer wrote this symphony with not only no interest in displaying
his own individuality but even with the specific intention of eliminating
it to some extent, it is clear that to expect any performance consciously
to foreshadow Bruckners later style is inappropriate, although this
does not prevent us from being able to glimpse traces of Bruckners
later works here in embryo: moreover, Ashkenazys choice of tempo is
supported by the marking of Allegro molto vivace in the score. Likewise,
in the second movement, his quick tempo for the G minor section at 404"
eschews Inbals deliberate ponderousness.
The recording was made in the same Berlin church as that which was used for
many of Eugen Jochums distinguished Bruckner recordings and the sound
quality is good. My only complaint about the production is that after hearing
extraneous noises during the first movement exposition, to hear identical
noises again at exactly the same points in the score when the opening four
minutes of music are repeated gives the game away that the musicians recorded
it only once (for instance, compare 213" & 216" with 620"
& 623"); whilst such recycling is standard procedure in the recording
industry, none of us enjoy having our illusions of spontaneity shattered
in this way. There are no similar distractions in the finale, whose three-minute
exposition is followed by a literal repeat of itself.
Although Inbals mid-price version is excellent, I recommend
Ashkenazys full-price version as the one to buy. Do not attach importance
to the price differential, as the Teldec issue has no coupling, whilst the
new Ondine release contains a valuable bonus which more than justifies the
higher price asked: we are given the 16-minute slow movement of the String
Quintet (1878/9), a work of Bruckners maturity, in an arrangement for
string orchestra by Fritz Oeser, whose credentials as a Bruckner scholar
were impeccable (his fine edition of the Third Symphony appeared in 1950).
This Adagio has made more impression on me here than in any performance
which I have heard of the original chamber version of the quintet: it is
too important to be regarded as just a fill-up and it is not
be to be missed.