Symphony No.3 in D minor [Original Version, 1873, edited Leopold Nowak]
Recorded in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg between 2-4 December 2003
Reviewed by: Timothy Ball
Reviewed: February 2005
CD No: TUDOR 7133
Duration: 63 minutes
The mighty musical edifice that Bruckner created in his Third Symphony in 1873 (actually completed in 1874) was subsequently interfered with by the composer and others, thus leaving musicologists and Bruckner enthusiasts in a dilemma as to which of the several versions should be determined as ‘definitive’.
A whole website could be – and probably is – devoted to texturalmatters associated with Bruckner symphonies; suffice it to say here that it is the penultimate version (dating from 1888/89) of the Third Symphony which has, until comparatively recently, been the accepted and most widely-played and recorded text (in Nowak’s edition). An intermediate stage also reached publication in 1878, as did an 1890 revision undertaken by Bruckner in conjunction with Josef and Franz Schalk, which Rättig edited (the version used by Barbirolli on a recent BBC Legends issue).
Bruckner’s original conception – never performed in his lifetime – was not published until 1977 and since then there have been a number of recordings of it, starting with a pioneering reading from Eliahu Inbal and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, now on Warner’s budget Apex label. Other recordings of this ‘first’ version include Kent Nagano on Harmonia Mundi and an epic reading by Georg Tintner for Naxos.
Jonathan Nott now joins this comparatively select band in presenting Bruckner’s first thoughts. This was the symphony that Richard Wagner deigned to accept being dedicated to him. Indeed, the symphony has been nicknamed – not by Bruckner – the ‘Wagner Symphony’.
Jonathan Nott’s authoritative performance takes Bruckner’s music at face value and convinces one – if this were needed – that Bruckner did indeed know what he was doing when he completed this work in its original form, even if he himself came to have misgivings later, prompted, no doubt, by the intervention of well-intentioned friends and colleagues.
Nott, aided by a superb response from the Bamberg players,allows us to appreciate the rawness of Bruckner’s first inspiration, and whilst there may be ‘odd’ moments on the way, these are taken as part of a unique musical landscape. Here, with a tangible sense of discovery, Bruckner’s Third Symphony is delivered in all its initial splendour with, at times, an almost primal force.
The first movement builds from its misty opening to climaxes ofconsiderable strength, each seeming, in this performance, more powerful than that which preceded it. All the more remarkable that this music should emerge from an essentially ‘classical’ sized orchestra, with the addition of another pair of horns and three trombones. Even ‘extras’ – such as piccolo, contrabassoon and percussion – introduced by Beethoven are eschewed, and not until later symphonies does Bruckner employ tubas, thus belying a perceived notion that his symphonies are invariably scored for gargantuan Wagner-sized orchestras.
Nott’s way with the first movement – and, indeed, throughout – is to move forward. Unnecessary lingering is studiously avoided, and this is all to the good with material which is already weighty and lengthy.
However, there are touching moments where woodwind pause for a moment with expressive, regretful phrases. These are allowed to register without impeding momentum.
The second movement of this symphony underwent considerable alteration later on – primarily through truncation, as was the case in the finale.
But whilst there are some undeniable ‘awkward’ passages, Nott ensures these do not disrupt the general flow, and his fleeter-footed view of the ‘adagio’ indication is surely appropriate in music which does not benefit from any sense of dragging. Again, climaxes are well-judged and the intended Wagnerian allusions form natural high-points. Bamberg’s brass is consistently fine, and such moments do not become needlessly coarse. The brass’s full, rounded tone is strong but not overwhelming.
In the scherzo, an exhilarating sense of propulsion is communicated. The trumpets’ rhythmic figure (‘smoothed out’ inrevisions) blazes forth like a veritable call-to-arms, and the wholefeels like an undoubted precursor of the equivalent movement inBruckner’s last symphony, No.9. For the trio, Nott commendably – and accurately – maintains the same tempo and completely avoids any unwarranted hint of daintiness.
For the finale, Nott and his players plunge headlong into the fray with complete conviction. The strings’ oft-heard ostinatos make one wonder whether the Minimalists took inspiration from it, and the music as a whole has an inexorable turbulence which renders any structural anomalies null and void. The sudden moments where animation ceases abruptly are quite startling andthe symphony culminates in a peroration of remarkable power.
Having only experienced Jonathan Nott’s work on disc conducting Ligeti, and associating his name with the Ensemble InterContemporain, I was unprepared for his authority in this repertoire. He and the Bamberg Symphony are at one in Bruckner’s soundworld.
I don’t know if a complete cycle is planned, but on the evidence of this impressive release, a series of ‘original version’ Bruckner symphonies from this team would be very welcome indeed.