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Bruckner: Symphony No. 1 in C Minor / Blomstedt, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra

Bruckner / Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch / Blomstedt
Release Date: 11/13/2012 
Label:  Querstand   Catalog #: 1115  
Composer:  Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Herbert Blomstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BRUCKNER Symphony No. 1 (1866 “Linz” version, revised 1877, ed. Leopold Nowak) Herbert Blomstedt, cond; Leipzig Gewandhaus O QUERSTAND 1115 (SACD: 49:51) Live: Leipzig 6/16–17/2011


In December 2012, as I write this, Herbert Blomstedt’s complete live Leipzig Bruckner cycle is being released by Querstand in a nine-SACD boxed set, but there have been only two of the symphonies from that cycle, prior to this one, reviewed here: No. 7 by James Reel in 31:5 and No. 4 by Gavin Dixon Read more in 36:3. Blomstedt, of course, is no newcomer to Bruckner. His recordings of the composer’s symphonies on various labels with numerous orchestras span three decades, going back to the early 1980s. In most cases, according to a complete Blomstedt Bruckner discography (abruckner.com/recordings/Blomstedt/Herbert), the conductor’s preference appears to be for the Nowak editions of the composer’s scores, but there are notable exceptions. His latest Fourth from this Querstand cycle, for example—the version reviewed by Dixon—is Blomstedt’s first and only recording of Nowak. In five previous recordings with the orchestras of San Francisco, Montreal, Tokyo (NHK), Deutsche Berlin, and the Staatskapelle Dresden, ranging from 1981 to 2007, Blomstedt consistently turned to the 1936 Haas edition.


It should also be noted that of the dozens of Bruckner symphony recordings Blomstedt has made over the years, this appears to be his first ever of the No. 1, and for it he has chosen the Nowak edition based on the so-called second “Linz” version of 1877. The album’s back jacket misprints the date of this Nowak edition as 1955, but the booklet’s program note, verified by all other sources, gives the date correctly as 1953.


Concerning variant editions of the First Symphony, the matter is perhaps a bit less complicated than it is for some of the composer’s other symphonies, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its issues. To begin with, the work is not the first symphony Bruckner composed; chronologically, it comes second. The original version, which Bruckner completed in Linz in 1866, is sandwiched between the so-called “Study Symphony” (aka No. 00), completed in 1863 and the No. 0, completed in 1869. But here’s where things get a bit thorny. Bruckner himself made revisions to the symphony in 1877 and again in 1889/1891. Both the original 1866 and later 1877 scores are referred to as the “Linz” versions, though Bruckner departed Linz in 1868. The much later 1889/1891 revisions are referred to as the “Vienna” version, but it’s the second of the two “Linz” versions (1877) that forms the basis of both the Haas (1934) and Nowak (1953) editions, which, according to José Oscar de Almeida Marques (unicamp.br/~jmarques/mus/bruckner-e.htm) have no significant differences. Of the original “Linz” version (1866) there is no Haas or Nowak edition; however, a reconstruction and critical edition of it was prepared in 1998 by William Carragan.


Curiosity led me to investigate which of the two editions, Nowak or Haas, was the preferred version among conductors, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I found. It turns out that apart from Gerd Schaller with the Philharmonic Festiva on Profil (reviewed by Dixon in 36:3), and the very highly regarded Georg Tintner with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Naxos (reviewed by Robert McColley in 24:1), no one else appears to have recorded William Carragan’s critical edition of Bruckner’s original 1866 score.


When it comes to Nowak and Haas, however, there are almost an equal number of recordings (Hass, 22; Nowak, 24), but among them, I found only one conductor who hedged his bets by recording both versions, and that is Claudio Abbado who led the Vienna Philharmonic in a 1968 performance of the Haas version, now available on Eloquence, and the same orchestra again in a 1996 performance of the Nowak edition, available on Deutsche Grammophon. Following is a by no means comprehensive list, showing conductor/edition recordings.


Nowak Haas


Abbado, Vienna, 1996, DG Abbado, Vienna, 1968, Eloquence


Barenboim, Berlin PO, 1996, Teldec Haitink, Amsterdam, 1972, Philips


Barenboim, Chicago SO, 1980, DG Masur, Leipzig, 1977, Denon/RCA


Blomstedt, Gewandhaus, 2011, Querstand (SACD) Neumann, Leipzig, 1965, Berlin Cl.


Bosch, Aachen SO, Coviello (SACD) Sawallisch, Bavarian O, 1984, Orfeo


Inbal, Frankfurt RSO, 1987, Teldec Solti, Chicago, 1995, Decca/London


Janowski, Suisse Romande, 2011, PentaTone (SACD) Suitner, Berlin St., 1987, Berlin Cl.


Jochum, Berlin PO, 1965, DG Wand, Cologne, 1974–1981, RCA


Jochum, Staatskapelle Dresden, 1978, EMI


Karajan, Berlin PO, 1981, DG


Maazel, Bavarian RSO, 1999, BR Klassik


Young, Hamburg PO, 2010, Oehms (SACD)


As indicated above, this is not intended to be a complete list of every available recording of Bruckner’s First Symphony, but it does cover many of the main ones readers are likely to have or be familiar with. As you can see, except for the above-noted Abbado, there is no crossover between versions; conductors are committed to one or the other, with Nowak being the more frequent choice. Note also that as of now, I find no SACD recordings of the Haas edition, while there are at least four SACD versions of the Nowak edition.


Now, performance considerations aside, is there actually any reason to prefer one edition over the other, to choose a recording from column A vs. one from column B? The answer is apparently not; for at least insofar as Bruckner’s First Symphony is concerned, whatever differences may exist between the Nowak and Haas editions, they are so minor as to be insignificant, at least according to the above-quoted José Oscar de Almeida Marques. Admittedly, I haven’t been able to compare both scores bar by bar, but I’ve done about as thorough a search on the subject as I can, and, as is often the case with Internet search results, the same quotes, verbatim, are picked up over and over again by every single source. And that’s what I discovered here; the same phrase appeared again and again: “no significant differences.”


Perhaps a colleague or reader more knowledgeable on this matter than I am would care to educate me, but for now, having no other choice than to accept the “no significant differences” as true, let me move on to the performance and recording. For the sake of consistency, I’ve chosen for comparison purposes recordings only from column A, even though I’ve long had Haitink’s and Solti’s column B cycles in my collection. But here I compare the two Barenboims, the Dresden Jochum, and the Karajan with the new Blomstedt. First, let’s look at the timings.


Conductor/Orchestra Mvt 1 Mvt 2 Mvt 3 Mvt 4 Total


Barenboim/Chicago, 1980 12:19 12:12 9:06 13:46 47:04


Jochum/Dresden, 1978 12:31 12:38 9:02 12:57 47:08


Blomstedt/Gewandhaus, 2011 13:16 13:12 8:48 13:35 48: 51


Barenboim/Berlin,1996 12:50 13:36 9:21 14:11 49:58


Karajan/Berlin, 1981 12:59 14:23 8:59 14:38 50:59


The above table is sorted by total timing. I always knew Karajan felt slow, but before doing this comparison, I didn’t realize just how slow—almost a full four minutes slower than Barenboim in Chicago. But as you can see, by the time Barenboim got around to recording his second Bruckner First in Berlin 16 years later, he had slowed down to within one minute of Karajan. Had Karajan so imprinted his reading of the work on the Berlin orchestra that the musicians reflexively projected his interpretation onto Barenboim? Clearly, Barenboim in Chicago is a different Barenboim than he is in Berlin. I know that his later Berlin account for Teldec is highly regarded, but listening to it next to the others, it does strike me as being on the sluggish side, beautifully played and recorded as it is. In contrast, Barenboim’s account with the Chicago Symphony feels somewhat rushed, so it wouldn’t be my first choice either, but oh, the combination of Bruckner’s scoring and Chicago’s brass is a thing of splendor to behold.


Eugen Jochum has long been highly respected, if not revered, as a Bruckner conductor, and, for a nearly complete cycle of the symphonies, his 1978 remake for EMI may be close to ideal. Unfortunately, the original nine-disc set did not include the “Study” Symphony or the No. 0. That was partially remedied when the set was transferred to Brilliant Classics and a 10th disc added, which included the Symphony No. 0 in a performance by Stanis?aw Skrowaczewski conducting the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra. It’s an incredible bargain at ArkivMusic for $39.99, but while I’m on the subject, the only two cycles I’m aware of that include all 11 symphonies are the ones by Bosch and Inbal. Attractive as Blomstedt’s new cycle may be, unfortunately, for completists, it includes only the canonical Nos. 1 through 9.


Broader tempos in Bruckner’s later symphonies can, and often do, lend a sense of grandeur to the unfolding of his majestic architecture and a feeling of dignity to his mystical musical gestures, but this early effort, to the extent that Bruckner can ever seem youthful, is the work of a composer still relatively young at heart, despite its minor key. Bruckner himself referred to it as his “saucy maid.” Even its instrumentation—flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, and strings—is not as full or varied as it would become from the Fourth Symphony onward. In fact, its scoring is identical to that of Brahms’s Second Symphony which was completed in the same year (1877) that Bruckner made his own revisions to his Symphony No. 1.


Scoring aside, Bruckner’s sound world is unique. Even in this early work, one would have difficulty identifying its antecedents. In fact, I’m tempted to say that the symphony is more about what it anticipates than what it reflects. Yes, at approximately 4:43 in the first movement, there’s a clear echo of the famous overture to Wagner’s Tannhauser of 1845, which Bruckner would almost certainly have known, being a keen student of the German’s music since 1863. But almost as surely, the very opening of the movement, except for the bells and a faster tempo, is bound to bring to mind Mahler’s Fourth Symphony of 1900. While Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1 is certainly no lighthearted nosegay, it’s still a classically structured work that follows a fairly typical pattern of minor-key symphonies (until Brahms’s Fourth) of persevering through trial and tribulation to triumph and glory.


The completion of Blomstedt’s Bruckner cycle coincides with the conductor’s 85th birthday, and here he is bestowing a gift on us. This is a fine performance and, as you can see from the above table, it falls midway between the fastest and the slowest versions, which tells me that Blomstedt’s long years of immersion in this music have led him to a place of balance and wisdom. The Gewandhaus Orchestra plays magnificently for him, with lustrous strings and ravishing brass.


For a stand-alone Bruckner First, this may just be one of the best there is, and Querstand’s SACD recording captures the Leipzig hall in magnificent sound. Well-deserved applause is included at the end, but the audience is otherwise silent throughout. If I have any disappointment at all, it’s that something in the way of filler wasn’t included. For Bruckner fans, if you can live without the “Study” Symphony and the Symphony No. 0, this is sure to be a survey to equal past greats, among which I would unhesitatingly include Jochum’s Dresden effort.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in C minor, WAB 101 by Anton Bruckner
Conductor:  Herbert Blomstedt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865/1891; Linz, Austria 

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