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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1877 version, ed. Nowak)
Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
rec. Studio MCO5, Hilversum, 21-23 December 2011
In whichever version (1873, 1877 or 1889) Bruckner’s Third is a marvellous symphony, which proclaims the full range and power of his genius.
Jaap van Zweden is one of the most seasoned Bruckner conductors working today and he opts for the second version, dating from 1877, with a tighter structure than the original score of four years previously. The symphony was dedicated to Richard Wagner, whom Bruckner called ‘the Master’. Various Wagner quotations were excised from this revision.
The studio recording made at Hilversum is very fine, at once atmospheric and detailed. Listen for example to the opening phrase of the first movement, when Bruckner clarifies the phrase structure within the first subject with some wonderfully astute orchestration. The balance Zweden and his recording engineers achieve here is just right. Not only does this set the tone for the listener’s experience, it also sets the context for the music’s longer term architecture.
Dynamic shadings are expertly handled, with abundant atmosphere and the release of power whenever it is required. Thus the dramatic climax of the first movement, as the exposition comes to its close, releases a tremendous symphonic intensity. At the other extreme of the musical experience is the sensitive pianissimo that is found so often in the second movement Andante. The string playing of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic is exemplary, whether in extending the musical line with glowing richness or in providing a subtle backdrop of texture while the woodwinds play above.
The scherzo betrays Bruckner’s rustic origins from Upper Austria. The rhythms suggest that the orchestra and conductor are wearing lederhosen, so authentic do they seem. Here pastoral innocence lurks at one end of the spectrum, a powerful dance of the earth at the other.
As so often in 19th century symphonies, the finale is the most problematic part of the score. There are those who will contend that only the original 1873 version will do. The 1889 version is more drastically cut than that from 1877, in which the musical structure holds up more strongly. Zweden certainly conveys the vehemence of the opening theme, which is probably the most important aspect of the movement. However, it is the second theme that warrants the most exact description, since it is a subtle combination of polka and chorale which Bruckner described with a telling anecdote: ‘In the tavern there is dancing, while next door the master lies in his coffin.’ Zweden manages to balance these aspects most successfully and the music therefore extends the range of the movement in a wholly satisfying manner. Towards the end of the work the principal theme from the first movement comes back to make its emphatic point. It confirms the essential unity of the whole conception which it most certainly does in this excellent performance.
Bruckner’s Third Symphony is well served on CD in all three versions. Of those who have recorded this 1877 version, Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic (Warner Elatus 2564 60533) and Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic (Philips 422 411-2) are particularly successful, but it needs to be said that Zweden’s new version stands up to the comparison and is undoubtedly a major achievement.
Jaap van Zweden is one of the most seasoned Bruckner conductors working today and this new version of Bruckner’s Third is undoubtedly a major achievement.

Terry Barfoot