Bruckner: Symphonie No. 1

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BRUCKNER Symphony No. 1 (1866 vers) Philipp von Steinaecker, cond; Musica Saeculorum FRA BERNARDO 1310322 (47:57) Live: Musik Meran

The program notes to this recording state that the 60-person Musica Saeculorum opted to record Bruckner’s Symphony No. 1 in its original 1866 edition on period instruments in an effort “to identify any possible connection to Schubert and the early Romantics.” Harmonically, of course, Bruckner is worlds removed from Schubert and his contemporaries. But the use of period instruments does offer Bruckner a slightly more subdued timbral palette than most listeners are accustomed to in his music. The strings are somewhat darker, the brass a bit more veiled. Whether because of instrumentation, recording engineering, or conducting choices, though, I find that the strings have a tendency to overbalance the other instruments in tutti sections, occasionally making melodic material difficult to discern. This is my primary criticism of this disc. Bruckner at his most forceful can and should be overwhelming, but the counterpoint should always be clear; his tuttis mark the apotheoses of thematic material. In this recording, these passages tend to be rather murky and undifferentiated.

This criticism aside, Philipp von Steinaecker demonstrates a keen understanding of Bruckner’s aesthetic. The dotted rhythms of the first movement’s main theme are crisp and energetic, as are the horn’s responses. Von Steinaecker lingers appropriately on Bruckner’s extended passages of dominant harmony, building harmonic tension through strategic ritards in preparation for majestic statements in the brass. Even within string passages, though, figuration occasionally overshadows melody, as in the contrapuntal development of the first theme in the violins against sextuplet scales in the lower strings or the recapitulation of the second theme in the basses against eighth-note figuration in the upper strings. The modulatory passages that follow, however, are forceful and stern, and the rush to the final bars is quite exciting, though I would have liked the thematic material in the winds to be clearer.

Von Steinaecker’s is one of the more expansive readings of the symphony’s second movement, over a minute longer than Jochum’s. I find the expansiveness effective; the chromatic introduction becomes nebulous enough to make the eventual arrival of stable tonality a genuine relief. In the soaring passages that follow, though, minimal differentiation is made between melody and accompaniment. Von Steinaecker is sensitive to the ebb and flow of harmonic tension, but the melodic contours are lost throughout much of the movement.

The third movement is perhaps the most successful, with strong, almost violent accents and sharp contrasts in dynamics. At nearly a minute shorter than Jochum’s performance and 90 seconds briefer than Barenboim’s, it is among the more energetic recordings of this movement. I only wish that the brass dissonances toward the end received more weight. And the trio has the same problems with balance as the previous two movements: the motivic fourths in the horn are quite difficult to hear.

The fourth movement has almost no balance issues, although Bruckner’s orchestration is not particularly different in this movement than in the others. The opening pages are powerful and imposing, though I would have liked von Steinaecker to take an even greater ritard over the extended dominant harmonies that precede the second statement of the first theme. The second theme, stated in the violins with offbeat accents in the basses, is appropriately rustic. Likewise, von Steinaecker builds tension admirably before Bruckner’s characteristic pauses. The development maintains a consistent sense of direction. Von Steinaecker is particularly effective in his treatment of Bruckner’s obsessively-repeated scale fragments in the strings, which he leads gradually from background to foreground against the melodic material in the horns. The ending is triumphant and grand, though a broader ritard before the final cadence would have made it more so.

Because of the balance issues mentioned above, I cannot give this recording a wholehearted recommendation, but von Steinaecker’s conception of the piece is intelligent and appealing. The sound is generally crisp and live, with very slight tape hiss apparent at the beginnings and ends of tracks.

FANFARE: Myron Silberstein

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: FB1310322

  • UPC: 4260307413125

  • Label: Fra Bernardo

  • Composer: Anton Bruckner

  • Conductor: Philipp Von Steinaecker

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Musica Saeculorum


  1. Symphony no 1 in C minor, WAB 101

    Composer: Anton Bruckner

    Ensemble: Musica Saeculorum

    Conductor: Philipp Von Steinaecker