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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 3 in D Minor (1889 version, ed. Nowak)
Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra/Tadaaki Otaka
rec. live composite 16, 17 & 21 January 2020, Festival Hall (16 & 17) & Suntory Hall (21) Tokyo
FONTEC FOCD9837 [54:02]

This is a swift account of the version of this symphony most frequently played and recorded before the 1877 and, more recently, the original 1873 versions came into favour. I say “swift” but the speed of the introduction is instantly so urgent and pressing as to rob it of all mystery and sets off alarm bells in my head; rushed and perfunctory Bruckner is anathema to me and this is the antithesis of the approach implemented by the likes of Celibidache or Sanderling. The descending second theme is given short shrift by strings none too sweet. Finally, we have to endure a phenomenon which has become all too common these days and is exacerbated by the clarity of digital recording: a highly audible and none-too-musical vocal obbligato from a conductor who is neither concerned that his contribution in unmannerly nor discouraged by his producers from making it.

As ever, tempo is not the only issue; phrases are too sharply delineated and truncated in a breathless manner which generates more anxiety rather than passion. The crescendo leading to the great brass choral climax at 10:30 could hardly be more crudely applied. A second brass climax at 14:09 is equally strident and grating; this is to Bruckner playing as painting by numbers is to great art. Otaka then proceeds to punctuate every rhythmic stab with little feral grunts. The final bars are very loud and not much else.

The Adagio has no finesse at all; I first listened slack-jawed as the Osaka Philharmonic plonked out phrases like a grumpy dinner-lady doling out mashed potato. The timbre of the woodwind is sour, there are some coordination issues among the brass, and there is some insecure intonation coupled with rough string playing. The conductor obliges us with more vocalise. A consolation is that this movement is over more quickly than in many a recording. As I have often previously observed, Bruckner’s Scherzos are largely bullet-proof and this one survives unscathed because Otaka’s bombastic manner chimes with its combination of manic drive and the wooden-legged waltz of the Trio, but it is hardly the last word in refinement and yet again you may intermittently hear Otaka singing along. The finale picks up on the scramble of the opening and proceeds in jolly, tripping fashion before making an unsubtle transition towards a pounding conclusion invariably underscored in its less-blaring passages by you-know-what…

The last two movements are decidedly superior to the first two but I have rarely been less enchanted by a recording and suggest that for all his gifts and accomplishments, Mr Otaka has no affinity with Bruckner. I am glad that he enjoys the music but would advise him either to reconsider his penchant for vocal embellishment of the music he is conducting or to retrain for the operatic stage – which, given his seniority is probably no longer an option.

Ralph Moore

[This review commissioned by, and reproduced by kind permission of, The Bruckner Journal]


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