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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, WAB 102 (1872 Version)
Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Ivor Bolton
rec. live, 2-4 October 2015, Groβes Festpielhaus, Salzburg

This live recording is presumably the last of Ivor Bolton’s series of Bruckner symphonies unless he is planning to perform and record “Die Nullte” and the student symphony in F-minor. Some previous reviewers of the other releases in this cycle have remarked upon a perceived lack of bloom on the Mozarteum strings and have even bizarrely opined that it is unlikely that an orchestra so named could succeed in Bruckner. I concede that the weight and sheen of the strings are not as apparent as in recordings by the BPO under Karajan or even the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Giulini, but I still hear plenty of warmth and heft here when they are required and note that the orchestra is of a typical size to perform Romantic music, hardly a “baroque band” or a “chamber Bruckner” outfit. The horns are heroic and error-free, the timpani prominent and the lower strings have plenty of grunt. For that quality of numinosity, so elusive yet essential to Bruckner, sample the slow passages development section of the finale just before the recapitulation and inversion of the main subject; it is splendid.

I for one especially enjoy Ivor Bolton’s recording of the Fifth in this series and this Second shares its virtues. His direction of this “Pausensinfonie” is non-interventionist but unafraid to give the rests full weight. He has a clear view of its structure and direction, and shapes it accordingly in a natural, free-flowing performance. He has a firm grip over the finale which can easily become diffuse or fragmented if indulged. Dynamic variation is especially telling: the eerie interludes during the last three minutes of the symphony are played on a thread of sound and the peroration really delivers.

This performance uses the same 2005 Carragan edition of the original version as Gerd Schaller in his recording for Profil, so it is with that issue that this can most usefully be compared, especially as the recordings referred to above employ the 1877 Nowak edition. This version is the longest of the five available; it includes the wonderful horn solo at the end of the Adagio (later designated as an Andante), restores the 250 bars of cuts implemented in 1877 and uses the original movement order, with the Scherzo second. Bolton takes around a minute more than Schaller in each of the last three movements; as much as I like this latest release, I ultimately prefer the greater urgency of Schaller’s recording which lends additional edge to his brass, despite the resonant ambience of the venue. Schaller’s interpretation is generally more atmospheric and mysterious; he finds both more tenderness in the opening to the Adagio and a degree more poise and magic in its close.

Presumably this recording is derived from two concerts and rehearsals; the audience is noiseless and the sound exemplary. While some will continue to prefer recordings of the later, more concise editions played in even grander fashion and my own preference for a recording of this version remains with Schaller, this completion of Bolton’s Bruckner cycle on Oehms is nonetheless highly satisfying.

Ralph Moore



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