BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor – Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik – Audite 95.543, 57:48 [Distr. By Albany] ****:
Having withdrawn the SACD version of this fine live performance of 30 January 1970 [boo…Ed.], Audite reinstates the standard inscription, which remains exceptionally electrifying. Rafael Kubelik (1914-1996), an outstanding exponent of Mahler, conjures equally potent response from his Bavarian orchestra in Bruckner, especially given this 1873 work, which pays simultaneous homage to Beethoven and Wagner. One acerbic critic referred to the D Minor Symphony as “a vision of Beethoven’s Ninth befriending Wagner’s Walkuere.” From the churning dramatic trumpet opening over open strings’ fifths to the impulsive momentum of the symphony as a whole, Kubelik exerts a taut but flexible leash on his forces. Yet the Third Symphony proves to be Bruckner’s declaration of creative independence, the forceful utterance of a unique voice whose debts to prior Austrian and German masters become subsumed to a grandiose colorful personality quite confident in his own terms. The luminosity of the D Major lyric theme by the Bavarian strings and winds, the clarion penetration of the trumpets and related brass, quite engages our audiophile sensibilities at every period in this massive score, even beyond the monumental first movement. The delicate balance of Austrian bucolic motifs and Lutheran chorale-structures finds a resplendent medium in this performance, perhaps reaching its most poignant moment in the finale, which resonates with the “Crux fideles inter omnes” Liszt employs in his own Battle of the Huns.
Bruckner originally intended the serene Adagio to be in five sections, but he edited them down to three, following once more in Beethoven’s Ninth footsteps with opening materials in a semi-martial 4/4 and a middle section in ¾. The sighing cadences have been noted as “Marian cadences” in their hymnal association with the Marian prayer service to which Bruckner remained devoted. Allusions filter in from Die Walkuere and Lohengrin and even an early C Major Mass by the composer himself. When applied contrapuntally, the various impulses create a “worldly” impression of Bruckner the pious connoisseur of music. Kubelik’s virile layering of sound creates a truly “venerable” moment in this devotional movement.
The rambunctious Scherzo brings out the demonic character in composer and conductor. After a 16-bar introduction, legato eighth notes in the second violin flutter against pizzicato eighths in the basses, and a syncopated rush to judgment follows. Folk music and Schubert conspire to influence the Trio section, the rustic laendler easily evocative of Mahler. The unabashed brio of the da capo reasserts that feral gaiety or totentanz that threatens a titanic explosion, except that Kubelik maintains the energies with a steady hand. Like Beethoven’s Ninth, Bruckner begins his Finale with reminiscences from prior movements, but a jogging swaggering march moves into those “fifths of faith” that mark the Bruckner brazen vocabulary. Polka and chorale compete for dominance in this variegated study in cross-rhythms and contrapuntal harmony. The transparency of the BRSO winds quite reminds us of the lumens Kubelik could generate in his Smetana cycle—Ma Vlast, for instance. Terrific punctuations from trumpet, strings, and tympani manage to raise Kubelik’s reading to a par with anything I know from Knappertsbusch, who of all Brucknerites most fervently led this enthusiastic work.