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(1824 - 1896)
Symphony No 00 in F Minor "Study Symphony" 37.25
"Volkfest" Finale to Symphony No 4 in E Flat major. 19.03
Royal Scottish National Orchestra  Cond. Georg Tintner
Recorded Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow. 3/4 Sept 1998  Naxos 8.554432 [56.37]

One of the advantages of integral recorded editions of composers' works is that there comes a time when attention turns from the familiar towards the nooks and crannies. So this penultimate release in the complete Bruckner cycle by the late Georg Tintner brings us only the fourth ever recording of what was Bruckner's true first symphony, written in 1863 as "homework" for his composition teacher. Typically Tintner gives this "foothill" all the care and attention he gives the "peaks" and provides an important addition to any Bruckner collection, whether as part of the rest of his splendid cycle or as a single purchase to complete a Bruckner collection. In his notes, Tintner points to the influences of Mendelssohn and Schumann on the younger Bruckner and you can certainly hear this in his performance. Fascinating in itself but also in the way the future Bruckner keeps peeping out in certain turns of musical phrase which Tintner, as you would expect, is careful to let us hear. Though also not to overly stress, which a lesser man might have been tempted to do. He brings bounce to the quicker sections which contrast nicely with the more reflective ones, a feeling continued in the second movement Andante where a central section, a striking "tramping" passage, finds Tintner conducting with great sympathy and perfect symphonic logic. Tintner argues for the Scherzo as especially noteworthy with Schumann the paramount influence and you can hear what he means. Conversely he confesses to finding the last movement the weakest yet doesn't let his feelings get in the way of rounding off the work by accentuating splendidly the satisfying outburst of energy and optimism at the close.

This earliest of Bruckner's symphonies is a real missing link in that it grounds Bruckner firmly into the tradition of Austro-German symphonic music than he would otherwise be if the work was ignored. Hearing his subsequent symphonies in this context only adds to our experience of the man and here is a chance to acquire the work at bargain price.

This disc also presents us with the opportunity of hearing another score we might otherwise overlook, an earlier version of the finale from the fourth symphony: the so- called "Volksfest" finale from 1878. Less valuable than the "OO" Symphony, it's still essential for a glimpse into Bruckner's creative process if you play the final version of the movement straight after hearing it. My belief is that Bruckner was right to re-work the movement but make up your own minds. In comparison I think the "Volksfest" gets diverted down cul-de-sacs where the final version is stronger and more focussed. For a composer who did have problems with his finales this is important and now we can see a little of his struggles. It's fascinating, for example, to hear the recurring slow, descending pitter-patter violin figure Bruckner subsequently discarded - a fragment from the floor of the master's workshop - and to hear Tintner, once again, not stinting in the care and attention he brings even to this. The mark of a conductor whose prime concern is the composer he was performing.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra plays superbly and Naxos have provided them with a big acoustic and a wide dynamic range. A touch more richness might have made things even better, but that's a minor quibble. This is an essential acquisition for collectors of this important cycle or for those who just need these two works.


Tony Duggan



Harry Downey writes:

The late Georg Tintner, who died in 1999, recorded a complete set of the Bruckner Symphonies, plus other Bruckner works, for Naxos. These recordings have been highly regarded since their release. This latest disc of the Study Symphony and an alternative ending to the Fourth completes the issued recordings from that source. Only No 1 remains to reach the UK and that is scheduled for July release.

With Bruckner, editions and versions are all important and it should be understood that the work here is not the Symphony No 0 in D Minor, which was written soon afterwards. The F Minor was written when Bruckner, at around 40, was set three pieces to complete his studies - an overture, a choral work and a Symphony - by his teacher Otto Kitzler. The reaction was disparaging - "not particularly inspired" - and Bruckner disowned the score. Clearly though the composer thought the work had some merit as he did not destroy it, nor did he tinker with it as was his normal way. So what we have here is the score as written, except for some minor changes made by the conductor (Tintner), who refers in a note to modifying a loud tutti to avoid a coarse effect.

With a title such as Symphony No 00 and Bruckner's unfortunate reputation due to his provincial background and willingness to defer to those whom he believed knew better, this early work has to fight to make its way in the world. There was a French recording some time back I recall which did not give the piece its due. Inevitably it is not lost treasure, to be ranked along with his later masterpieces, but it cannot be dismissed lightly.

Short by Brucknerian standards at 37'25" - written in the usual four movements most of what we would recognise as Bruckner is contained in the two middle movements. The opening Allegro has a wistful opening melody, some lovely passages for flute and oboes over strings, a number of thick-sounding trumpet led tuttis and a touch of the heroic in its ending.

In the Andante there are moments of great beauty with a simple haunting theme. Noteworthy are the composer's splendid use of woodwinds (excellently played by the RSNO members), and reminders of the Jupiter Symphony in the background runs in part of the scoring. The movement is gentle and ruminative with few loud passages to disturb the feeling of calm it gives.

The short Scherzo is a lively, bouncy section and with its Trio its parentage is unmistakable with pointers to what was to come. In the beginning of the Finale there is a feeling of a composer drifting a little but all comes together in a rousing ending.

Is the work good enough to be admitted to the full canon? Probably not, but it is certainly worth hearing on disc and it should also have the occasional hearing in the concert hall. If only that ridiculous Symphony No 00 tag could be forgotten.

The stories of who did what and when to the scores Bruckner's Symphonies is a muddled and lengthy tale. This version of the last movement of the Fourth Symphony is from 1874 and is known as the Volkfest Finale. The option offered here is shorter, but has much in common with the version generally used today (from 1880). It seems a case of minor tinkering rather than anything radical.

Collectors who have been following the Tintner set will be happy with this and the gaps it fills. The overall sound picture is perfectly acceptable and the playing of the Scottish Orchestra is generally responsive to a conductor who clearly had a feel for Bruckner's music.


Harry Downey


Tony Duggan

Harry Downey

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