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Bruckner sy1 PH18083
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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (revised Linz version, 1877) [49:25]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann
rec. live, 1 September 2017, Semperoper, Dresden, Germany
Edition Staatskapelle Dresden – Volume 52
PROFIL PH18083 [49:25]

Christian Thielemann’s survey of the Bruckner symphonies as principal conductor of the Staatskapelle Dresden has brought him to the Symphony No. 1 in C minor. Released on the Profil label this album is volume 52 of the ‘Edition Staatskapelle Dresden’ a partnership between the Staatskapelle Dresden and the MDR Figaro radio channel of broadcaster MDR-Rundfunk.

Chronologically the Symphony No. 1 in C minor comes between the ‘Studiensymphonie’ in F minor from 1863 and the later Symphony in D minor No. 0 also known as ‘Die Nullte’ from 1869, yet Bruckner stated that the Symphony No. 1 in C minor was his ‘first valid one’. Bruckner wrote this, his first numbered symphony, in January 1865 to April 1866 at Linz and this is the version of the score that Bruckner conducted at the premiere in May 1868 at the Redoutensaal, Linz, hence it is occasionally referred to as the ‘unrevised Linz version’. It seems that Bruckner himself paid for the costs of the premiere to be played by the Linz orchestra augmented by bandsmen from regiments stationed close by. Following a below par performance, the reception of the C minor Symphony was mixed. Bruckner subsequently made some revisions to the score in 1877 and in 1884.

Shortly after the Linz premiere Bruckner moved to Vienna to teach at the Conservatory, where he made more thorough revisions to the score from March 1890 to April 1891 and in December 1891 the newly revised version was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Richter in the Musikverein. The score Richter used has become known as the ‘Vienna’ version of 1891. Therefore, the Vienna premiere followed the Linz premiere by twenty-three years but Bruckner wasn’t finished and in 1893 he revised the score yet again for the first published edition of the symphony. Bruckner specialist Dr Robert Simpson expresses a strong preference for the ‘Linz’ version in virtually every regard over the contentious ‘Vienna’ reworking.

The Staatskapelle Dresden, or the Königliche musikalische Kapelle as it was then named, first played the C minor Symphony in 1911 directed by Kapellmeister Hermann Kutzschbach. It is thought likely that Kutzschbach was using the ‘Vienna’ version of 1891 and if that was the case then the ‘Linz’ version was first played by the Staatskapelle in 1945 conducted by Joseph Keilberth. In the accompanying booklet notes to this 2017 recording of the Semperoper, Dresden performance it clearly states that Thielemann is conducting the revised ‘Linz’ version, 1877.

Listening to this live recording of the seldom-encountered C minor Symphony, it isn’t long before one discerns the strength of the partnership between Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden. These highly accomplished Brucknerians seem to be energised by performing it. Nothing seems exaggerated and with such judiciously chosen tempi Thielemann’s approach feels entirely natural. Thielemann’s interpretation of this ‘Linz’ version works so well for me I would happily have this as my only recording.

In the rather short opening section of the Allegro, Thielemann ensures the march rhythm is jaunty and assured. Next the writing takes on a rather severe and anxious temperament with contrasting episodes of a dreamy calm. ‘The gathering waves of sound’ mentioned in the booklet notes are resolutely achieved by the Staatskapelle and it’s here we encounter exceptional playing in the brass section. This engaging early Adagio displays all the promise of those great slow movements that were to come later in Bruckner’s career. He takes away any discernible tension as the music, remaining positive, shifts between ardour and expressivity. Without overstaying its welcome, it evokes for me Bruckner’s much loved Austrian alpine landscapes.

Although this is an early symphonic work, already present here are the archetypes of the Bruckner Scherzo as the music bowls spiritedly forward, its dynamics ever-changing and its Trio typically lyrical. Thielemann’s rhythmically convincing and focused interpretation makes it feel as if Bruckner is depicting a sense of freedom following a lengthy period of helplessness. Bruckner began writing this C minor Symphony with the Finale. It is marked Bewegt und feurig (Moving and fiery) with swings of pace and dynamics; Robert Simpson recognised this closing movement as an authentic Allegro and Thielemann sustains a compelling momentum, producing an upbeat character to the writing. The loud, full-blooded opening section is a resounding fortissimo and the ending swells to a loud, jubilant and satisfying conclusion in a similar vein. This early score is played so impressively by the Staatskapelle, one can certainly appreciate Bruckner’s special command of writing for brass instruments.

Recording live in the splendid acoustic of the Semperoper, the engineering team have achieved first class sound. The audience is noticeably quiet, and any applause has been removed. The high-quality booklet notes are taken from the programme for the actual concert. 

Having come around to strongly favouring the ‘Linz’ versions, I have high regard for the evergreen account from the Staatskapelle Dresden under Eugen Jochum. Recorded in 1965 under studio conditions in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Jochum’s convincing account uses the 1865/66 ‘Linz’ version and forms part of his complete set of Bruckner’s nine symphonies on Deutsche Grammophon. A much more recent recording that I admire is from Valery Gergiev conducting the Münchner Philharmoniker using the 1877 ‘Linz’ version with revisions. Part of Gergiev’s ongoing Bruckner cycle, it was recorded live in 2017 in the Stiftsbasilika, St. Florian, on the orchestra’s own label but this newly released live recording from Thielemann becomes my first-choice recording.

Michael Cookson

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