BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 1 (“Linz” version) – Hamburg Philharmonic/ Simone Young – Oehms Classics multichannel SACD 633, 49:08 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
It is this first version of Bruckner’s First Symphony that has obtained de facto status as the preferred way to hear the work. Of course, in the tortured world of Bruckner version analysis this idealization of original thoughts does not always hold sway; nonetheless, Simone Young and her Hamburg forces are engaged in precisely this sort of philosophical exercise, being convinced that in almost every case the first inclinations of the composer represent the freshest and most convincing presentation of his music. The entire series so far (with 2, 3, 4, and 8 in the can and available) testifies to this ground-level assumption. The basic idea is that it was not Bruckner who wanted to make changes to so many symphonies later on, but that outside forces inclined him to revision.
The irony of this is that of all the symphonies it was the First that Bruckner himself, 25 years later, decided to revise for the Vienna premier. This smoothed-over version, as was the case in many revisions, dramatically nails down the fact that Bruckner is a composer of rarified ideas and ideals, and that his linear progression of melody over the top of his granite harmonic structures are much rawer and jarring than we normally hear, and usually not in his later revisions.
Especially in the First Symphony, where the embryonic ideas are just being formulated into what we would come to know as the “Bruckner sound”, there is a lot of struggling to come to terms with the microcosmic cellular strategy that the composer would eventually embrace, always seeing that “less is more” in his motivic direction. Rightfully he claims this work as his first true effort in the field, and far too often it has been the lowly stepchild of the others. Myself, well, I too have come to see it that way over the years, at least until now. Simone Young and her forces are forcing me to change my mind.
This is not the best played recording on the market—I would probably give that nod to Daniel Barenboim and the Berliners on Teldec. The strings particularly often don’t have enough heft and body to fully satisfy Bruckner’s requirements. But the delineation of the lines and the concrete and well-balanced orchestral body, coupled with Young’s evident love of the music as demonstrated by the vigorous and lively tonal qualities more than make up for any lack of presence in one section.
This moves to the top of my Bruckner 1 list—a short one to be sure, but important nonetheless.
— Steven Ritter
A lesser known jazz pioneer gets a re-mastered vinyl upgrade.