Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 0
Simone Young, cond; Hamburg P
OEHMS 685 (SACD: 49: 41) Live: Hamburg 5/20-21/2012
Little did I suspect that this recording of what is possibly Bruckner’s least-known symphony, played by a less than stellar orchestra, and led by a conductor whose Bruckner interpretations I had not hitherto encountered, would leap unquestionably onto my Want List this year. A little research revealed that Simone Young is working her way through the complete Bruckner symphony cycle, using the earliest
versions of each. So far Nos. 1-4 and 8 have appeared. Jeffrey Lipscomb has been fairly unimpressed by what he has reviewed, while James Reel has responded favorably, especially to No. 8. My reaction to No. 0 is that this is a conductor who deeply and truly understands the Bruckner idiom, conducts the music with total commitment, and leads an orchestra that is surely one of the finest in Europe.
What makes this live performance so special is the meticulous attention Young devotes to the dynamic markings in the score. As Gunther Schuller so earnestly and persuasively argued in his treatise on conducting (
The Compleat Conductor
, 1997—a must for every conducting student and for many pros as well), the great composers invariably knew exactly what they were doing when they put dynamic markings in their scores. Simply follow the directions and you’ll get the right results. What a difference it makes to hear the distinction between
, or between
. Young observes every last performance direction, including all the crescendos, decrescendos,
s. Add to this the impeccably balanced brass, the sumptuous warmth of the strings, and the plangent woodwinds, and you have what is to my mind the benchmark recording of this symphony. No. 0 has not lacked for recordings. Fourteen other conductors are listed on ArkivMusic, and John Berky’s website (abruckner.com) lists no fewer than 32 performances, though not all are commercial recordings. But next to Young, Haitink’s interpretation sounds perfunctory, Barenboim’s positively lethargic.
As many Brucknerians already know, this composer’s Zeroth Symphony (I know that’s not a valid word but I can’t resist) was composed
the First. The story of the chronology is complex and confusing, and need not concern us here (it is all expertly explained in Michael Lewin’s booklet essay, based on the latest scholarship) except to note that the numbering certainly wasn’t Bruckner’s, and that there exists an even earlier symphony in F Minor, a “student” composition (written at the age of 39!) that now bears the number “00.” The title of Bruckner’s Symphony, incidentally, is not unique; there also exists a large-scale, four-movement Symphony No. 0 by Schnittke, a student exercise.
Most of the qualities of Bruckner’s later, more famous symphonies are found in No. 0 as well. Openings of Bruckner symphonies, as Philip Barford so eloquently notes, resemble “the first stirrings of a vast, cathedral-like space of harmony within which a huge tonal structure is going to take form.” How like the opening of Beethoven’s Ninth, in the same key, the one Bruckner used for this and two more symphonies as well! But No. 0 has some unique qualities of its own. The first movement contains so much syncopation that it nearly induces a case of musical seasickness. Of its 353 measures, 96—one in four—contain syncopation. There are extended passages where up to 13 consecutive measures are written in continuous syncopation. The second movement has less but incorporates many trills, not something one generally finds very much in Bruckner. The finale is replete with them. (Should this be nicknamed the “Syncopation” Symphony? Or the “Trill” Symphony?) There is also much beautiful writing for solo woodwind quartets, sextets, and octets. The slow movement is notable for the rich string chorales that Bruckner would bring to ecstatic heights in his later symphonies.
Oehms’s sound is absolutely stunning. Seldom does a recording give me the impression I am within a great concert hall, but in this case I could easily imagine myself sitting in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The bass resonance is almost identical to the Bayreuth experience—something you feel as well as hear. This is a live recording, but audience interference is non-existent. As far as “Want Lists” go, this recording makes me want to rush out and get all of Young’s previous Bruckner releases.
FANFARE: Robert Markow
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