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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor WAB 101 (Linz Version from 1868) [49:52]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live 6 September 2017, Philharmonie Munich
Sound Format PCM Stereo, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 Surround; Picture Format 16:9, 1080i; Region ABC
Reviewed in surround
C MAJOR Blu-ray 744704 [56 mins]

Christian Thielemann has built himself a reputation as the current go-to conductor for Bruckner, and this magnificent disc does nothing to damage that. It will be interesting to see whether he becomes one of those rare completists by recording at least one version of each of the eleven symphonies. A glance at the catalogue suggests that he has No.2, No."0" and the F minor "Study" symphonies to go, assuming he is not going to dare to commit the ultimate iconoclasm and record one of the reconstructed finales for the 9th: do not hold your breath!  For this disc, Thielemann has opted to record the 1868 Linz version edited by Thomas Roeder in 2016 as the first volume of the New Complete Bruckner Edition, though that last item of information has to be gleaned from and is nowhere to be seen in the documentation.

There was a time when even obtaining a recording of this "First" Symphony in any edition was quite difficult. My 1960 copy of EMG's The Art of Record Buying, for example, does not even list one recommendable version of any symphony earlier than No.4. By 1967, they were listing Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic in this Linz Symphony, and I would still rate that very highly as both a performance and a recording, whether on vinyl or CD. Thielemann is a few minutes slower than Jochum - a surprise, because he does not sound slow per se, indeed he seems to whip up a goodly amount of excitement. Tempi are far from being the only issue in Bruckner performance, but if pushed I would tend to say that Bruckner gains from more time spent on his remarkable ideas. I have only three other recordings, by Janowski, Karajan and Jochum, and all make for very satisfying listening. The present issue is my first (and indeed the first) on video and is likely to be played more often as a result: I am sure I am not alone in finding that the sight of an orchestra playing helps the concentration.

As for this recorded performance, not recorded in the Dresden Staatskapelle's home but in the equally excellent, though far more modern, Philharmonie in Munich, it exhibits the same positive characteristics as Thielemann’s previous forays into Bruckner. The orchestra are clearly absorbed but enjoying the performance. As one of the best orchestras in the world, they display superb precision as well as producing the most beautiful sound. The smallest details, like a brief solo from the principal cello, come through the texture naturally. The air of concentration is quite palpable during the performance and is suceeded during the lengthy applause with satisfied smiles from conductor and orchestra. The camerawork is exemplary, as is the sound. The most important thing to say is that this leaves one feeling thrilled to have experienced such a splendid performance.

Disc menus are rather basic, allowing access to stereo or surround only after play mode has been selected, and of course a segment of music is then used as background.

Dave Billinge

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