* BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 2 in c (1877 version) – Orch. de la Suisse Romande/ Marek Janowski – Pentatone Classics multichannel SACD PTC 5186 448, 54:55 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
With this release, the penultimate in Janowski’s admirable series, only No. 4 remains to complete the second all-SACD set. Symphony No. 2, actually the third written (after “0” and “1”), also, typically, gave Bruckner a case of the revision fits, and this work suffered through three of them after the premiere, which itself removed the daringly difficult horn solo at the end of the Adagio and re-orchestrated it. Many believe this one of the times the composer’s second thoughts problematic; there are a lot of conductors who prefer the original version, which has the Scherzo second in order. The 1877 version, given here in William Carrigan’s corrections to the Haas edition from 1938, has the Scherzo third.
There will always be problems associated with any version of this symphony, and even Carrigan doesn’t solve all the issues, but to me the 1877 comes the closest and is very satisfying, even though a full quarter of the original last movement was sacrificed to cuts. The first performance was rejected by the conductor as “unplayable”, and Bruckner had to resort to hiring the Vienna Philharmonic himself and conduct it himself in order to get it played. Something must have gone right because the performance was a rousing success with the orchestra and the public. But the composer was talked into revising the piece and the second go around was not quite as enthusiastic.
Whatever version one chooses to hear, the Second has a lot to offer for a conductor who knows the spiritual essence of the work. “Spiritual” because this piece set the tone for all the symphonies to follow, and it is especially concentrated in the liturgical atmosphere of the Adagio where we find the heart of the piece. Janowski really soars here, one of the most amazing movements Bruckner ever wrote, with sumptuous and innovative scoring that simply balms the ears like aloe on a sunburn. The other movements either lead up to or follow this one in dramatic efficacy, especially with the reduced last movement. Janowski is triumphant even in the rather measured and stately pacing of the Scherzo, emphasizing the structured and profoundly direct sense of motion present in this work.
Pentatone’s sound is superb, clear, deep, very wide, and rich. If you need only one Bruckner Second, this outstanding release could be it.