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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (Linz version, 1865-6) [49:08]
Hamburg Philharmonic/Simone Young
rec. in performance, Laeiszhalle Hamburg, January 2010
OEHMS CLASSICS OC 633 [49:08]

This isn't a particularly good performance, though it's not for lack of trying. Simone Young doesn't get all of Bruckner wrong: she draws an epic quality from the first movement exposition, and launches the Scherzo with driving vigour. She just doesn't get nearly enough of him right.
 
Young brings off the lighter textures with a keen sense of colour. The broad string melodies have a vibrant glow. High woodwinds are transparent, and she isn't afraid to underline their varied timbres in midrange chords, as in the Scherzo. The quiet, open textures at 6:15 of the first movement are evocative but she's less attentive in the fuller passages. The very first tutti blazes brightly but subsequent ones sound rather indiscriminate, nor do moving parts always stay quite lined up with the brass themes. The recap of the Scherzo sounds more brash, in a banging-you-over-the-head kind of way, than did the first go-round. The Trio, on the other hand, sounds "too busy" at first; the repeated section is more carefully layered the second time.
 
Young sounds similarly indifferent to contrasts between sections, beating poker-faced through full-scale register shifts, Bruckner's analogue to stop-changes on the organ. In the first movement, for example, the eruption at 7:11 isn't sufficiently prepared; neither is the lighter passage that follows at 7:29. It's no surprise, then, that the arrival of the recapitulation, at 8:16, is practically a non-event -- it passes almost unnoticed -- and the second theme's return at 9:38 sounds unimportant. Similarly, the Finale is a dead loss: its musical episodes minimally acknowledged. There are plodding syncopations in the second theme to boot and the movement’s finish brings more relief than culmination.
 
Finally, and fatally, Young misjudges the lyric themes: they flow and sing easily, but want more space around the notes. The first movement's second themesounds pretty, but the string tone doesn't have time to bloom. The slow movement, more Andante than the indicated Adagio, lacks repose, and basically just elapses.
 
I've not heard this decoded for Super Audio. In normal stereo, the sound is reasonable, with clean, focused basses. A perceived lack of depth and richness is more likely a function of the playing than of the engineering.
 
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.

Masterwork Index: Bruckner 1

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