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Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 0 & 1 / Venzago, Tapiola Sinfonietta

Bruckner / Tapiola Sinfonietta / Venzago
Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777617   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Mario Venzago
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tapiola Sinfonietta
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 28 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRUCKNER Symphony No. 1. Symphony in d, “Die Nullte” (No. 0) • Mario Venzago, cond; Tapiola Sinf • CPO 777 617 (2 CDs: 88:25)
"The First Symphony truly stands apart from Bruckner’s other efforts in that realm. Its outer movements are much quicker than the composer’s norm: The work begins in a very jaunty, boisterous fashion that’s unmatched by any opening that came later, and its finale is the only one that starts right out with a bold proclamation of the main theme (Bruckner joked in his last years about the finale’s audacity, and likened it to a fool who bursts into a room and shouts “Here I am!”). The First is unique in not containing any specific theme references to Bruckner’s sacred choral works. While early Schubert
Read more seems to be a major influence, Bruckner’s novel First doesn’t really sound like Schubert—or anybody else. The First was completed 1866 at Linz and revised in 1877, with the latter now known as the Revised Linz Version. It’s far more frequently played and recorded than the rather unfortunate Vienna Version (1891), where Bruckner tried and largely failed to combine the earlier version’s naïve exuberance and rustic charm with the sophisticated and much weightier style of his recently completed Eighth Symphony.

In contrast to the boldly adventurous and totally secular First, Bruckner’s Symphony in D Minor (1869) seems like a step backward to the liturgical sound world of his three choral Masses, thus making it perhaps the composer’s most overtly ecclesiastical symphony. For example, as the second-movement Andante begins, Bruckner quotes twice from music to the line “Qui tollis peccata mundi” (“Who takest away the sins of the world”) heard in the Gloria of his Mass in E Minor (1866); in the finale, a quote from his seven-part motet Ave Maria (1861) appears right before the recapitulation, and other allusions to church music are detectable elsewhere. However, the Rossini-like Scherzo is lively and whimsical, with an unusually dreamy Trio. Sadly, only the first movement was performed in Bruckner’s lifetime. That single occasion (1870) was a rehearsal at Vienna led by Otto Dessof, who asked the composer, “But where is the first subject?” Poor Bruckner was so devastated by Dessof’s reaction that he soon decided to shelve the piece altogether. In 1895, Bruckner stumbled across the original score while preparing to move to his very last apartment. He then drew a large zero with a slash through it on the front page and wrote “not valid, only an attempt.” As a result, the work is now referred to as either “Die Nullte” (The Zeroth) or, perhaps less awkwardly, Symphony No. 0.

The first volume of Mario Venzago’s Bruckner cycle for CPO used the Basel Symphony in performances of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7, which I praised (Fanfare 35:3) as “imaginatively conceived, adroitly played, and attractively recorded.” But in these new studio recordings made during 2010, Venzago has chosen to use a terrific Finnish ensemble—the Tapiola Sinfonietta—that totals just 41 players, including nine first violins. If the numbers seem a little small, it should be pointed out that when Bruckner led the First’s premiere in 1868 at Linz, his ensemble was pieced together from the local theater orchestra, members of two regimental bands stationed at Linz, and a few amateurs. Reportedly, the entire string section had 12 violins and three each of violas, cellos, and double basses. Assuming the other scoring requirements were met, Bruckner thus had a total of about 40 players. By the way, the premiere was not a success. Just one day earlier, the bridge over the Danube at Linz had collapsed, and local residents were too caught up in dealing with the disaster to go and hear Bruckner’s concert (as the composer glumly recalled years later, “It cost me a lot of money to cover the deficit”).

With his compact ensemble, extremely well-judged instrumental balances, and a taut but pleasantly resonant hall acoustic, Venzago delivers the goods with spectacular results. In its detailed clarity and wide dynamic range, the sound of his First easily betters the other CDs and the four SACD offerings I’ve heard (from Bosch, Bour, Haselböck, and Young), and the Zero’s sonic quality is unrivaled. Of course, such audio superiority would mean very little if the performances were merely routine efforts, so I’m very happy to say that Venzago’s impassioned readings here are altogether extraordinary. For instance, to find a recorded First with comparable fervor and gusto, you would have to go all the way back to the classic 1953 Volkmar Andreae/Vienna Symphony on Music & Arts 1227 (33:3), a nine-disc set of Symphonies Nos. 1–9 (plus Te Deum) that’s an essential component of any serious Bruckner collection. In the First, Venzago uses the revised Linz Version in Nowak’s edition, which is basically identical to the earlier Haas (Venzago also performs a Nowak publication in No. 0).

Throughout the First (duration: 44:32, versus Andreae’s even quicker 43:08), Venzago displays lean but warm textures and gracefully shaped phrasing that provide a wealth of intriguing details that usually can’t be heard; that’s especially true of the woodwind parts (every section of this orchestra executes superbly, and how refreshing it is to hear winds and brass taper their phrases so delicately). Venzago’s liberal use of rubato allows the music to shift and grow in a natural and unforced way, with some additional benefits obtained from left-right division of first and second violins. To achieve a wide variety of inflection, Venzago leaves no tone unturned (so to speak): String vibrato can be full or minimal or even absent, depending on the music’s flow and emotional content; in a few passages, the strings play on or just behind the bridge, to ghostly effect. Under Venzago, all of the ingredients one wants to hear in a fully realized Bruckner performance—drama, mystery, suspense, anger, tenderness, charm, despair, exaltation, and a host of others—are there in abundance. The finale’s coda could hardly be more powerfully dramatic, while the Adagio lovingly captures that wistful yearning for the unattainable which is so typical of Bruckner’s slow movements. Somehow, it all just sounds right. The same can be said of Venzago’s Zero (duration: 44:01), an eloquent reading of an unjustly neglected score (it requires exactly the same orchestral forces as the First). It may be a bit uneven in its inspiration, but Zero has many spellbindingly beautiful moments that can’t be ignored (Venzago’s heartbreaking account of the Andante here is enough to provoke tears), and its Scherzo is a riveting display of virtuosity. The finale’s fugal section is nowhere near as imposing as what Bruckner would later achieve in the Fifth Symphony, but Venzago manages to make a very strong case for what normally seems like an academic exercise.

Even the finest Bruckner performances aren’t all peaches and cream, so a few very minor quibbles must be noted regarding these accounts. In the two opening bars of the First and also in the last bars of Zero’s Andante, the Tapiola strings play so softly as to be barely audible; however, this is easily corrected by setting the volume knob a couple of notches higher than usual for both discs. In No. 0, the Scherzo’s tempo could have been just a little faster (after all, the indicated speed is Presto), and in Zero’s Trio the very stretched rubato at the start and in the repeat seems a bit too exaggerated, which is a reason I keep my 1990 Inbal/Frankfurt Radio account of Zero (it lasts 44: 06). Incidentally, if you can find the budget two-disc release of that Zero on Teldec’s deleted Ultima CD series, it is paired with Inbal’s nifty performance of Bruckner’s early (1862) “Study” Symphony.

Despite those minor nitpicks, this CPO set from Venzago and the Tapiola Sinfonietta is an incredibly satisfying way to experience Bruckner, and fully deserves an enthusiastic recommendation. This is the stuff that dreams—and Fanfare Want Lists—are made of."

FANFARE: Jeffrey J. Lipscomb
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 0 in D minor, WAB 100 "Die Nullte" by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Mario Venzago
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tapiola Sinfonietta
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1863-1869; Linz, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/2010 
Venue:  Tapiola Hall, Kulttuurikeskus, Espoo 
Length: 43 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Symphony no 1 in C minor, WAB 101 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Mario Venzago
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865/1891; Linz, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/2010 
Venue:  Tapiola Hall, Kulttuurikeskus, Espoo 
Length: 43 Minutes 49 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Unfortunate balance and recording sink this one! October 31, 2012 By Gail M. (Goleta, CA) See All My Reviews "There are many fine recodings of Bruckner's First Symphony, but this is not one of them. A problem conductors must overcome is to avoid letting the brass or drums overwhelm the rest of the orchestra in passages such as the first blaze-up following the introductory march theme. In this recording the venue seems far too confined for the volume the players take. The claustrophobic sound makes listening very uncomfortable! Except for this major problem, the performance otherwise is good,and detail is excellent in the quiet passages, where drums and brass don't mask other instruments. The sound for Symphony 0 is a little better than #1. For Symphony #1 in the Linz version I'd recommend Jochum/Berlin PO, Sawallisch/Bavarian RSO, Solti/Chicago SO, Suitner/Staatskapelle Berlin, or Tintner/Royal Scottish National O. For the Vienna version of #1 both Chailly/RSO Berlin and Wand/Cologne RSO are fine. Ashkenazy or Chailly are fine for Symphony 0." Report Abuse
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