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Bruckner sy2 19439914122
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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-96)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor (1877 version ed. Carragan)
Wiener Philharmoniker/Christian Thielemann
rec. 25-28 April 2019, Musikverein, Vienna
SONY 19439914122 [58:13]

My reaction to the first three instalments of Thielemann’s ongoing Bruckner cycle has so far has been mixed; I found both the Eighth and the Fourth underwhelming, although the Third seems to me to be much more engaging, even though responses from other quarters have been lukewarm.

Thielemann here uses the Carragan edition of the 1877 version which is now generally accepted as the most scholarly and dependable, removing the anomalies of the Haas edition. My touchstone recordings are Giulini with the VSO and Horst Stein with the same orchestra as per here but they are quite different in approach. In the first movement, Thielemann inclines more towards Giulini’s refinement, driving the symphony with a light hand, bringing out the lyrical, rustic qualities of the work, so the first movement dances engagingly but is by no means without tension, as Thielemann does not let proceedings drag. The famous pauses are decorously observed and not indulged and the virtuosity of the VPO ensures that the music truly sings. Any longueurs are, I think, Bruckner’s and not Thielemann’s; this is as spritely an account as you could wish and our ears are constantly beguiled the special warmth of the woodwind here. The coda is fierce and focused.

Thielemann’s Adagio is typically leisurely – considerably more so than either Giulini or Stein; I find it to be absolutely lovely. The VPO plays with great delicacy and restraint and once again the warm sonority of the woodwind is key in compounding the initial gemütlichkeit of this music which gradually evolves into grandeur and nobility. The strings’ frequent pizzicato is similarly understated, never thrusting forward but acting as a cushion for the muted brass. This is subtle, civilised music-making of the highest calibre – utterly beguiling and the other-worldliness of Bruckner’s inspiration seems kin to Mahler’s more transcendent moments. The slow application of torque from around twelve minutes in is beautifully gauged and the three-quarter-time passage over a pizzicato ground from around 13:50 is especially charming before the restatement of the soulful main theme. The Scherzo is joyous affair, tripping with the requisite rustic vulgarity before the lilting Ländler Trio and I like the forthrightness of the timpani interjections at the close. The finale is bold and brave, alternately driven and flowing, giving music which can sometimes emerge as a tad diffuse a real sense of shape and purpose – and the brass fanfares are worthy of a Berlioz overture. The conclusion is riotous and released; Thielemann controls the dynamics of the climax perfectly, building from a muttering to a thunderous peroration.

The sound is flawless – perfectly balanced in a manner we have come to take for granted in this digital age of expert sound engineering.

I am well aware that many still adhere to the notion that “proper, mature” Bruckner begins with his Third Symphony, but played like this, the Second seems to me to be as fine and cohesive as any in the Brucknerian canon and certainly not susceptible to accusations of inferiority.

Ralph Moore

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