BRUCKNER: From the Archives, Vol. I – SOMM

by | Apr 4, 2024 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRUCKNER: From the Archives, Vol. I – Symphony in F Minor, Symphony No. 1, March in D minor, Psalm 112, Overture in G minor — SOMM ARIADNE 5025-2 (2 CDs: 68:00; 79:09, Complete content listing below) (3/15/24) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

SOMM generously provides the raison d’etre for the Bruckner collation at hand, the first volume of a projected series:

“[We] announce Bruckner from the Archives, a major new, six-double-CD-volume series celebrating the 200th anniversary of Anton Bruckner’s birth in 1824. Conceived and designed by SOMM Executive Producer and acclaimed Audio Restoration Engineer Lani Spahr with support from the Bruckner Society of America, the series features rare archival recordings of Bruckner’s 11 symphonies and selected other important works, many appearing for the first time in any form. Recordings have been sourced from the more than 11, 000 Bruckner performances in the Archive of John F. Berky, Executive Secretary of the Bruckner Society of America, who also acts as Consultant for this important series. Across the series, authoritative notes by Professor Benjamin M. Korstvedt, Jeppson Professor of Music at Clark University, Worcester, Massachusetts, President of the Bruckner Society of America and member of the Editorial Board of the New Anton Bruckner Complete Edition, trace Bruckner’s life and compositional development from the Symphony in F minor (1862) to the unfinished Ninth Symphony (1894).”

The set opens with Bruckner’s 1863 Symphony in F Minor (WAB 99), a work guided by the composer’s studies with Otto Kitzler (1834-1915), his first major symphonic effort, complete in tandem with his Overture in G Minor (WAB 98). A curious, lyrical blend of influences from Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann, the piece requires the conductor to repeat the expositions of the outer movements. Already, we perceive Bruckner’s tendency to conceive his musical ideas in “periodic” structures, realized by arranging his instruments to appear in thematic groups, alternating trumpets and trombones and then singing strings and woodwinds. A palpable urgency for polyphony marks the first movement, Allegro molto vivace, here rendered in a live broadcast (11 June 1974) by Bruckner “specialist” Kurt Woess (1914-1987), whose long association on records, via the Remington label, has rather set his name, unfairly, among lesser-respected interpreters. Woess led the Bruckner Orchestra of Linz from 1967-1975, a tenure that rewarded him a Bruckner medal. Aside from its “schoolwork” promise – a la Schubert, of greater hopes – the Symphony presents little melodic or dramatic grandeur, almost reminiscent of a youthful Dvorak, though lacking that composer’s innate gifts for memorable tunes.

The 1862 March in D Minor (WAB 96) comes to us from a 9 May 1944 broadcast from the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft under Hans Weisbach (1885-1961), a musician unfortunately sympathetic to National Socialism, and thus they expounded Bruckner’s opus for propaganda effect. A plodding theme has some lighter string filigree, but the thrust of the piece remains within the confines of a passing intermezzo, neither possessing the lyric vigor of Weber nor the drama of Wagner. The secondary tune, lyrical and sweetly sentimental, exploits strings, winds, and horn. 

Bruckner wrote his Three Pieces for Orchestra in November 1862, and they, too, receive a performance from the same 1944 concert from Weisbach. The first piece, Moderato in E-flat Major, is quite brief, an appetizer of sorts in a lyrical mode. The second, Allegro non troppo in E Minor, allows an onrush of feeling to arise from its often hazy, perhaps Alpine, atmosphere. The last of the triptych, Andante con moto in F Minor, proves the broadest conception, more lyrically adept. The latter pages reveal Bruckner’s capacity for iterated stretto to achieve a dramatic climax.

From 1863, we have Bruckner’s setting of Psalm 112 (WAB 35), given that his mastery of choral-music genre preceded his ambitions to create an oeuvre of symphonic repertory.  The Psalm is listed as No. 113 in the German and English Bibles. This is a Vienna, debut performance from Czech conductor Henry Swoboda (1897-1990) in 1950, featured on the Westminster label, which Swoboda founded. This Alleluia, Praise the Lord for 8-part mixed choir and full orchestra was left unfinished by Bruckner. The piece asks for a repeat of the full opening material, after a 4-part, fugal peroration. Devotional and nicely balanced, the performance would make an interesting addition to any radio Swoboda tribute.

Disc 2 begins with the first mark of Bruckner’s burgeoning, musical maturity, the 1862-1863 Overture in G Minor (WAB 98), first heard by this reviewer in a performance from Willem van Otterloo on Epic Records. Its structure, following an introductory Adagio for 22 measures, launches into an Allegro non troppo that follows a traditional sonata form. The theme, in dotted rhythm, follows an energetic, often contrapuntal course, that permits moments of colored orchestration, somewhat reminiscent of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. Melodic leaps in both the opening subject and the slow theme, Un poco meno mosso, will become Bruckner traits.  The ever-uncertain Bruckner had the appro6val of his mentor Kitzler in pursuing t his score to its completion, with its revision of the coda in 1863. The performance for this set proceeds with a 1959 aircheck with the WDR Symphony under the direction of Dean Dixon (1915-1976), an Afro-American conductor who gained prominence in Europe and Australia, but whose work gained dissemination via the Westminster label. The WDR trumpets and trombones make their presence known, especially as the models of Schumann and Wagner were to infiltrate Bruckner’s compositional style. 

With the advent of his Symphony No. 1 in C Minor (WAB 101, 1864-1866) Bruckner acquires a public persona, though it must bow both to Beethoven and to Wagner for its musical impulses. From Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Wagner’s Tannhauser Bruckner imbibed a resonant, even mammoth, sense of orchestral volume and dramatic space, evident in his use of trombones, which make their first appearance in the first movement, exposition climax. The second movement Adagio exploits the rich chromaticism Wagner had unleashed in Tristan, now so capable of expressing Bruckner’s idiosyncratic intensity. After a Scherzo in G minor, the Finale offers a study in large contrasts, from turbulent, brass declamations to moments of fugal counterpoint or periods of relative serenity and repose. It is conductor Eugen Jochum (1902-1987) who opts to lead the Bavarian Radio Symphony (1 January 1959) in the 1866 Linz version of the score edited by Robert Haas. Flute and horn, then rich brass mark some decisively potent utterances between “woodland” murmurs in the first movement, a somewhat martial Allegro, while Jochum coaxes an alluring patina from his strings, high and low.  The coda itself basks in its own momentum – quite energetic even if temporarily interrupted by woodland bliss – the WDR trumpet wildly virtuosic in its peroration.

The Adagio, in A-flat major, proceeds at first as an elongated string serenade, plaintive and persuasively pantheistic. The horn and woodwinds insinuate themselves without breaking the mood of reflection and meditation. The music does permit some minor key clouds to intrude into the bower of bliss, but a kind of pious chant emerges, perhaps an analogy to Wagner’s Tannhauser pilgrims. That a great climactic moment erupt without the scoring of trumpets or trombones makes us think, at least emotionally, of another Wagnerian rapture in the Prelude to Lohengrin. 

Nothing so detached from earth occurs in the muscular Scherzo, rather heaving in its musical impetus. This Linz version favors irregular rhythmic accents, which Bruckner smoothed out in his later editions. The work between strings, winds, brass and timpani proves compelling, magnetic in their collective, elemental force. Then, the lyrical Trio in G major emerges, Schubert’s wandering among the rural environs of Austria.  The vigor of the da capo rudely awakens us from our brief idyll, its earthy directness an assault on our contemplative musings. No less boldly assertive, the Finale opens Bewegt, feurig (stirring, fiery) with a kind of proclamation that gains more eminence later. The move to a convulsive, fugal development proves unexpected, perhaps an influence from another cautious experimenter in symphonic form, Robert Schumann. In the course of three thematic groups Bruckner weaves an opulent canvas much indebted to Beethoven for its glowing, cumulative effect. 

This extraordinary collation of Bruckner works concludes intimately, with the composer’s 1862 String Quartet in C Minor (WAB 111), a composition perhaps indebted more to Haydn than either Schubert or Beethoven. Suppressed by Bruckner as a mere student effort, the music did not see a printed edition until 1955, though the performance proffered us dates from a 1951 RIAS aircheck, the year of the premiere, by the Koeckert Quartet. Leader Rudolf Koeckert, according to annotator Benjamin Korstvedt, “apparently prepared a set of performance material from Bruckner’s original score in the Kitzler Study Book, which was still in a private collection in Munich.”

The first movement, Allegro moderato, presents a sadly introspective theme that soon reveals Bruckner’s penchant for polyphony. In C minor, 4/4, the music proceeds in Classic sonata form, though the development’s harmonic evolution bears the kind of chromatic color typical of late Romanticism. The exposition is repeated, a relative rarity in Bruckner, which we did note in his Symphony in F Minor. The slow movement, Andante, offers an expressive ¾ song without words in A-flat major, with a dance-like middle section in the tonic minor. If the comparison to Mendelssohn seems hyperbolic, the writing justifies the analogy by its strongly defined sense of line. Bruckner’s third movement, Scherzo – Presto in G major, enjoys a rustic ¾ energy and a flighty Trio that reveals a sense of wit. The Rondo – Schnell returns to the tonic C minor, authoritative in tone and somewhat lusty in feeling, akin to traits in late Haydn. Koeckert plays with warm affection, their often contrapuntal and driven lines clear and crisp.

Executive Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer Lani Spahr alerts us that the archives of the Bruckner Society of America (estab. 1931) possess 11,000 recorded Bruckner performances, so there shall surely appear more fascinating sound documents that will honor the 200th anniversary of the birth of this beloved son of Austria.

—Gary Lemco

BRUCKNER: From the Archives, Vol. I: Premiere and First CD Releases =

Symphony in F Minor – Bruckner Orchestra, Linz cond. Kurt Woss/
March in D Minor – Vienna Symphony Orchestra cond. Hans Weisbach/
Three Pieces for Orchestra- Vienna Symphony Orchestra cond. Hans Weisbach/
Psalm, 112 – Vienna Akademie Kammerchor and Vienna Symphony Orchestra cond. Henry Swoboda
Overture in G Minor – WDR Symphony Orchestra cond. Dean Dixon
Symphony No. 1 in C Minor – Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Eugen Jochum
String Quartet in C Minor – Koeckert String Quartet

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Album Cover for Bruckner From The Archives Vol. 1

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