Notes and Editorial Reviews
Haitink is a Brucknerian bold and true, and the Vienna Philharmonic, the brass in particular, plays gloriously, with thrust, spontaneity, and weight of tone.
The late Deryck Cooke described Bruckner's Third Symphony as the least perfect of the nine symphonies, though not the least magnificent. Problematically for the collector, it exists in three editions all of which have been recorded and all of which have their interest for thoroughgoing Brucknerians. The first of the three editions, which Inbal has recorded with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Teldec/Warner Classics (ID 242 961-2, 1)86), dates from 1873. As a symphonic project it is both magnificent and characteristic. Unfortunately, the sweep of the musical
vision outdistanced Bruckner's ability to control it structurally; so it is not surprising that in 1877 he returned to the text and radically revised it. This 1877 text has been recorded intermittently over the past 30 years, most notably by Bernard Haitink whose 1964 Concertgebouw recording had a striking rebirth in the 1980s when it was successfully remastered for reissue on LP and cassette (both nla) on Philips's Sequenza label. Unfortunately, Bruckner went on to make a third edition in 1889. It was done under duress from the Schalk brothers (Mahler advised against it) and involved cuts and recomposition, not all of them Bruckner's own. It would seem, though, that in one respect the Schalks knew what they were about since it is this 1889 version that has been preferred by the overwhelming majority of conductors, in the concert hall and on record.
For most Bruckner scholars, the 1877 text is the ideal. "It is stylistically purer," Robert Simpson has written "and though its construction leaves much to be desired, its weaknesses are exacerbated, not propped, by the crude remedies of the later version." Some will say that the premises on which such arguments are based are too rarefied for the general listener. It is a dangerous argument because it neglects the further premise that an artwork can be enjoyed (if it is any good) long before it is understood. But one has to concede that there are recordings of the 1889 text that take the breath away. The version by Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (DG 0 413 362-2GH, 8/84) is one of untrammelled splendour. And my own favourite, Gfinter Wand's Cologne performance (available only as part of a ten-CD RCA set CD GD60075, 2/90) is one of such redeeming lucidity that one almost forgets all about the hiatuses and cuts that so disfigure the finale in particular.
The shored-up 1889 text is one which orchestra and conductor can get their teeth into—witness Szell's Cleveland account from the 1960s recently reissued by Sony (CD CD45880, 10/90)—but 1877 is the version to collect, and here Haitink currently has the field to himself. Of course, those who already have Haitink's earlier, Concertgebouw recording will want to know whether (LP sidebreaks apart) the new version is to be preferred. And here I would say that if Philips were a charity rather than a commercial organization they would have done well to invite Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic to record the powerful third version which we would then have been offered in a economically priced double-pack with the earlier recording alongside it. Perhaps because Haitink himself was younger and because the Concertgebouw has less sheer girth of tone than the Vienna Philharmonic that earlier version sounds fresher—as befits the symphony itself in its original form—and lighter on its feet. The finale's polka subject, which has a certain sly wit and grace in the Concertgebouw recording, retains a certain slyness and grace but with the Vienna Philharmonic it is more the slyness and grace some of us associate with that old darling of Chancery Lane, Mr Horace Rumpole. The new recording, like the playing, is immensely forceful. I admired the dynamic range in the first movement—triple forte to a genuinely felt pianissimo all nicely accommodated and playable without further resort to the controls—though a sense of quiet, of Bruckner speaking in a solemn undertone, is sometimes missing in the slow movement. At times now it is as if Haitink is conducting the 1877 text as though it were the 1889. But that is only an impression.
The fact is, Haitink, dedicated Brucknerian that he is, is making a wonderful job of the work without resort to all those unseemly cuts, revisions and re-orchestrations that most of his rivals rely on. He is a Brucknerian bold and true, and the Vienna Philharmonic, the brass in particular, plays gloriously, with particular thrust, spontaneity, and weight of tone in the much disputed finale. If the Schalk brothers could have heard this performance perhaps they would have left the old boy alone and spared us the compromises of 1889.
-- Gramophone [3/1991]
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in D minor, WAB 103 by Anton Bruckner
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 12/1988
Venue: Vienna, Austria
Length: 61 Minutes 41 Secs.
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