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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony in F minor "Study Symphony", WAB99 (1863) [43.23]
Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
rec. live, September 2015, Ebrach Summer Festival, Regentenbau, Bad Kissingen, Germany

I recently reviewed Gerd Schaller’s recording of “Die Nullte”, recorded in March 2015, six months before this release and in the same grateful venue. I expressed mild surprise at just how much of the style of the mature Bruckner was already apparent in that work of 1869.

The so-called “Study Symphony”, sometimes known as Symphony No. 00, dates from six years previously and understandably contains far fewer of the Brucknerian trademarks his aficionados prize. Indeed some might concur with the verdict of Bruckner’s teacher Otto Kitzler who adjudged it to be “uninspired”, a criticism somewhat at odds with the appreciative and appreciable notes from Dr Rainer Boss. My MusicWeb colleague Michael Cookson, who has also reviewed this disc, also summons up rather more enthusiasm for it than I feel inclined to express. I am in full agreement with him, though, that it could hardly be given better advocacy than it receives here from Schaller and the excellent Philharmonie Festiva, who have already proved their prowess in their series of recordings of the complete Bruckner symphonies on Profil.

Furthermore, the sound engineering is once again of the highest order, the warm acoustic of the Regentenbau proving ideal for enhancing the textures of this music.

The symphony is essentially rustic and in spirit, sounding very much like second-rate Schumann. Some might say that too much of Schumann’s own music unfortunately sounds second-rate, in any case, so perhaps we should go easy on our late-developing composer. He was not yet forty and was yet to produce his masterpieces. The main subject of the Allegro molto vivace is rather gauche and banal. Its chord progressions and scurrying string passages seem somewhat directionless and are oddly punctuated by solo viola passages which seem artificially grafted onto the main musical argument. However, the pastoral second subject is attractive, there is a pleasing delicacy to the development and the conclusion to the movement is decidedly rousing.

The Andante is again a little shapeless but the galumphing central section has an appealing charm. There is some lovely solo oboe playing here. The Scherzo bustles boldly in a manner more prophetic of the later Bruckner symphonies, whose Scherzi are so often full of momentum and even aggression. The Finale is robust, romping and jolly, again very much in the Schumann mode.

Not a great deal of the music here is especially memorable but it is certainly intriguing, particularly to the Bruckner completist.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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