Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Classics: Bruckner begins to establish his voice, hushed and clear


by Ken

I think I mentioned awhile back that one of the sudden onslaught of Sony BMG "big boxes" I ordered was a reissue of the late G√ľnter Wand's 1974-81 traversal of the nine Bruckner symphonies with the Cologne Radio (now WDR, or West German Radio) Symphony. I was tempted to refer to it as Wand's "first Bruckner symphony cycle," since he would later endlessly rerecord many of the Bruckner symphonies with the NDR (or North German Radio) Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic, but as far as I know he never rerecorded the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2.

I can -- and with some frequency do -- listen straight through the symphonies of Mahler, or the nine of Beethoven, but the Bruckner Nine pose some difficult listening-straight-through challenges, not least the inferior quality of the first two symphonies. (It's even worse with conductors who out of some sense of misplaced "fidelity" included the two even earlier symphonies, which we know as "00" and "0," which the composer himself decided didn't belong among his symphonic canon.) Although the Bruckner Third Symphony either, I'm really not persuaded by it either. And then, out of not-quite-nowhere, comes the awesome Fourth (which we heard in its entirety in January 2010, "Bruckner's Fourth Symphony -- four stories for four movements")
In last night's preview, our first two mystery excerpts plunged us into the vast but also warmly enveloping world of the Brucknerian Adagio, a world we've already visited (here in addition to the Fourth Symphony post).

But of course the Bruckner Fourth hardly came out of nowhere. In those first three numbered symphonies we can hear Bruckner grappling with all sorts of issues of what sort, or sorts, of symphony he wanted to write -- and sometimes succeeding quite wonderful, notably in the middle movements of the Second Symphony, which is the music I had in mind when I mentioned in last night's preview that I'd just gotten a CD package in the mail "and soon after I started listening I encountered some music that simply transports me, beginning with this excerpt, from the slow movement:

Excerpt 1


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