RCO/Jansons – 1

Symphony No.3 in D, D200
Symphony No.3 in D minor [1889 Version, edited Nowak]

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 10 February, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

These two Austrian symphonies made an apt pairing. The over-in-a-flash, Carlos Kleiber-like Schubert performance made a short first half. It lacked the late Kleiber’s intensity and single-mindedness but had similar ideas on tempo, not least in the second movement Allegretto, which was elegant in its dancing if too spurting ahead in its clarinet-led ‘trio’, Jansons applying the brakes rather too noticeably to get back to the opening measures. The vivacious Minuet (a scherzo, in fact) was lively and better timed through its sections. The outer movements (repeats intact) were a mixed success. The first’s not-so-slow ‘slow introduction’ introduced hard-stick timpani, a vivid contribution from the woodwinds, and antiphonal violins (four double basses nestling behind the 12 first fiddles). Such expectancy led to a bubbling Allegro. The finale, as the proceeding three movements had been, was deft and beguiling, with dynamics miraculously varied (if micro-managed); but, by now, a certain predictability had set in and some playfulness to alleviate the rigidity would have been welcome. When Jansons did intervene on his immaculate, well-oiled orchestra, it was more ‘sore thumbs’ than genuinely illuminating.

There was a time when the final version of Bruckner’s Third Symphony was considered ‘definitive’. Now that the 1878 and the original 1873 versions are better known, the 1889 “abortion” (as so described elsewhere) becomes less satisfying in its foreshortening and conventionalising. William Carragan (Bruckner expert and editor) has commented that the essence of Bruckner lies in his first thoughts. He is correct. Of Bruckner’s symphonies, the Third is a minefield of versions and editions.

Surprising, then, in relation to such enlightenment, that Jansons should opt for what many would argue is the least satisfying publication of the Third – and curious that Jansons should now place all the violins together – the composer no doubt persuaded by the (well-meaning) Schalk brothers to trim and sanitise what is (originally) a fascinatingly individual work, termed in the Barbican programme as ‘Wagner Symphony’, a misnomer given it’s an unofficial title and Wagner himself wasn’t keen on the quotations that originally studded the score. (By 1889 these had all but been removed.)

Jansons’s conducting of Bruckner enjoyed the outstanding playing of his orchestra, which was sensitive and resplendent, the Slavonic-toned horn solos especially ear-catching, but he couldn’t disguise (or tried not to) the diffuse nature of the first movement or the add-on coda of the finale. The slow movement was more compelling in terms of ‘questions and answers’ and the wrestling of emotions. The scherzo, crisply played, came unstuck with the Ländler trio, which plodded. The polka that intercedes into the tempest of the finale was better timed, if a little regimented, the trombones’ chorale well balanced with it. A 57-minute account as against the 65 superfluously suggested in the Barbican programme. No encore was forthcoming. A bit of Wagner would have been appropriate or, from home, some Wagenaar!

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