Kent Nagano is not noted for his affinity for Bruckner, and he has made his job even more difficult by choosing the most awkward (and lengthiest) version of Bruckner's most awkward symphony, interpretively speaking. What a remarkable surprise, then, to be able to report that this performance of Bruckner's original, 1873 score is the finest available. The principal competition comes from Tintner's hypnotically slow rendition on Naxos, which remains a unique and powerful view of the work. Nagano is no speed demon: the performance runs for about 66 minutes, but it's better played by an orchestra that (as we know from previous Bruckner outings with Chailly, notably the Seventh Symphony) has the idiom in its bones, and it's also gorgeously wellRead more recorded (by Martin Sauer, one of the best guys in the business).
In the final analysis, however, this is very much Nagano's show, and in retrospect his success might not appear so surprising. Conductors specializing in contemporary music often reveal a strong affinity for Bruckner (think Skroweczewski and Gielen, to name just two), for the simple reason that most of them aren't terribly sympathetic to traditional, sonata-form types of dramatic musical architecture, and for all that he tried, neither was Bruckner. In so many ways, despite his recourse to traditional harmony and clear-cut motives, he resembles formally a modern, "sound field" or "textural" composer, like Messaien, whose music simply alternates static but highly contrasted blocks of sound separated by pauses. If this sounds to you like a description of your typical Bruckner symphony, then you're right on the money, and perhaps none of Bruckner's work shows this method of construction at its most primal better than the original version of the Third Symphony.
So you will not find in Nagano's performance any attempt to ease the music into more traditional patterns of tension and release, as for instance Jochum always tried to do. Instead, he gives each section plenty of room to breathe while paying close attention to maintaining clarity of contrapuntal detail. This is evident from the very first bar, as the strings slowly build their crescendo and you can hear every subsequent entrance clearly, but unobtrusively--even the soft initial roll on the timpani. The dynamic range is huge: the big unison climax of the development section crashes in with devastating force, but Nagano's attention to detail never once sounds coolly mechanical. He relates each section organically to what has come before, timing the pauses perfectly. His handling of the slow transition back to the first-movement recapitulation, with its soft references to Wagner's "Magic Sleep" motive, is as movingly sensitive as one might hope.
In the Adagio, which plays here for about 17 minutes, he achieves the hushed intensity necessary to make each quiet appearance of the chorale theme (lovers of this work know what I mean) a moment of truly touching humility. The strings sing out warmly, and once again Nagano's sense of timing is perfect. The music has flow, paradoxically, because it's never hurried, and this as we know remains the secret of all great Bruckner conducting. A strongly vigorous, sharply rhythmic account of the scherzo leads to as fine a performance of the wayward but rambunctious finale as you can find anywhere. Nagano balances the "polka vs. chorale" second subject to ear-catching effect. Beautifully shaped string phrasing makes melodies out of the oft-repeated sequences, and at the end he even manages to integrate the thematic recollections of previous movements into the music's overall flow before a really gigantic and satisfying final climax.
I also like the way Nagano shapes the somewhat amorphous endings of the first and last movements (Bruckner really did improve them on revision) through careful attention to the brass, managing to impart an extra sense of finality to the closing bars. Unlike Karajan, for instance, Nagano correctly "decompacts" the brass section, so that at the final return of the symphony's opening theme, trumpets, trombones, and horns all retain their individuality of character and energize (note the horn triplets) the last measures both melodically and, more importantly, rhythmically. Given the current state of the market and a natural impulse to clamor for more, I would not suggest that Harmonia Mundi immediately rush into a Bruckner cycle with Nagano. There's plenty of time for that. On the other hand, I urge music lovers, and particularly the skeptics, to try this performance without delay. It's truly wonderful, and any label willing to take risks of this sort deserves every measure of support when it succeeds so grandly.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com, Reviewing original release of this recording HMU 801817 Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in D minor, WAB 103by Anton Bruckner Conductor:
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Period: Romantic Written: Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 03/2003 Venue: Studio 1, NLG GmBH, Berlin, Germany Length: 68 Minutes 42 Secs. Notes: Version: 1873
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Nothing Short of SpectacularMarch 14, 2015By Kevin K. (Falls Church, VA)See All My Reviews"This performance is revelatory. The sound a excellent, and it is the conception coupled with stunning execution by the orchestra that reveals new dimensions of this often heard work. Every movement is a new experience, and I have heard many performances of this work, beginning with the fine George Szell performance from nearly 50 years ago. Mr. Nagano's ability to have luxuriously slow tempos that never drag, and open up the structure of the music is both relaxing and exciting. Do not miss this performance."Report Abuse
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