BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 2 in c (1872 version) – Aachen Symphony Orchestra/ Marcus Bosch, conductor – Coviello multichannel SACD 31015, 66:21 [Distr. by Qualiton] ***1/2:
Bruckner’s Second Symphony is one that usually gets short-shifted; caught between the revelatory No. 1, which defined for us the Bruckner sound that was to come, and the Wagner-overdosed No. 3, No. 2 is amazingly chamber-like in much of its orchestration (or at least as “chamber” as Bruckner ever got) and often irritatingly classical in its orientation. But to know it is to love it, and this early work is easily the equal of predecessor and successor, though like the ubiquitous “Study” symphony (No. 00) it also has a lot in common with Robert Schumann. As far as revisions go, to be Bruckner is to revise, but this one suffered through only about four. As of late the so-called 1872 “original” has come back into favor (as heard on this recording) with the scherzo placed second, but mostly it has been the 1877 revision (with the scherzothird and greatly attenuated in length—about six minutes as opposed to ten) that has been most often recorded. Personally I think that Bruckner got it right the first time, as the extended scherzo adds some heft to the not-as-bombastic-as-usual first movement, and provides a nice setup to the gloriously beautiful slow movement.
Bruckner, as usual, tends to lag behind Mahler in the technology department, and the latter is dwarfing him in the plenitude of SACD recordings. So there is cause for rejoicing that Marcus Bosch and forces are finishing with this release their cycle of the nine, not knowing whether they will tackle the “double 0” or the Symphony No. 0, which the composer withdrew because of intense criticism and was never played in his lifetime (it was actually completed just before this symphony under consideration). For the most part this is a fine interpretation, certainly played well by the Aachen Symphony Orchestra (Karajan’s old haunt, among many others), and very expressive. My only problem is a certain loss of clarity due to the empty hall and the way-back microphone placement which picks up a lot of the hall’s echo and renders certain passages rather diffuse. If I put on another favorite of mine, the Naxos recording of Georg Tintner with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, you can immediately see what is missing; its like a blurred picture has come into focus, and the Naxos sound is not that far off from what Coviello give the ASO here, but the NSOI doesn’t have quite the chops that this Bruckner-drenched orchestra has.
Karajan has owned this work—no surprise here—and his DGG recording is one of the greats, though he opted for the 1877 Nowak revision, which means the out-of-order movement and the short scherzo. Nonetheless, anything Karajan had to say about Bruckner must be taken very seriously, and this is no exception. The heft he gets from his muscle-bound Berlin Philharmonic is noticeable right from the beginning, and Karajan’s sense of the long line is simply unparalleled. But Bosch has his moments as well (and he uses the correct version!) so I don’t want to suggest that Karajan is so good that this new recording is superfluous—far from it. And as far as SACDs go, the only competition is from an Oehms recording with Simone Young (also using the 1872 score) which I have not heard, though this site and others have been very favorable to her Bruckner and the sound of the Oehms recordings. So you might want to check that one out as well before making a purchasing decision.
— Steven Ritter