Bruckner: Symphonies 1-3 / Schaller, Philharmonie Festiva

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BRUCKNER Symphonies: No. 1 (1866 version, ed. Carragan ); No. 2 (1872 version, ed. Carragan) ; No. 3 (1874 version, ed. Carragan) Gerd Schaller, cond; Philharmonia Festiva PROFIL PH12022 (3 CDs: 192: 19)

Gerd Schaller and William Carragan want to show us another side to Bruckner. Carragan has edited each of the symphonies, drawing as far as possible on the earliest surviving versions, and Schaller is recording a cycle based on the resulting editions. This is the second of three box sets, the first of which included the Ninth Symphony with Carragan’s completion of the finale.

The editorial issues associated with the first three symphonies are just as thorny. Carragan justifies the project in a liner note essay by saying that these symphonies are best known in their later versions, and that the earlier versions are ripe for reappraisal. That’s a generalization at best; the third may be better known in its later form, but the early versions of the first two symphonies seem to predominate these days.

But how early is early? Carragan contends that most performances of the early versions include later revisions. His edition reproduces, as far as possible, the earliest complete conceptions of these works, which he dates to 1866, 1872, and 1874, respectively. (The most commonly performed ‘early’ versions of the symphonies date from 1877, 1873, and 1876.) It is hard to hear exactly what Bruckner thought fit to revise here. His changes involved evening out the phrase structure and modifying the orchestration. He also extended many passages, especially introductions, and took out the most overt references to Wagner, as well as much of the counterpoint, in the third symphony. Carragan’s most radical departure is to place the Scherzo of the second symphony before the Adagio , but otherwise his edits mainly concern details of counterpoint and orchestration.

None of the alleged flaws seriously impede these early versions. Some passages are more abrupt than we might expect, but each symphony is a work of focused conception and impressive realization. Gerd Schaller gives convincing interpretations. He has a vested interest in Carragan’s work, as the third symphony was edited at his request, and the version receives it premiere recording here.

The only problem is that the conductor’s respect for this scholarship weighs down his readings with an undue sense of reverence. The performances are tightly controlled, with the orchestra always kept on a tight leash. Schaller also holds back on the tempos in almost every movement. Could this be another result of Carragan’s research, or simply a matter of personal taste? Whichever way, it is not a serious problem. In fact, Schaller demonstrates to his more intemperate colleagues that momentum and excitement can be maintained without the need for fast tempos or dynamic extremes. The Scherzo of the first symphony, for example, and the opening of the second, both have all the power and energy they need, despite the relatively slow speeds. The only danger is that the music can sound a little too civilized; classical elegance is an underrated virtue in Bruckner interpretation, but in the finales of each of these symphonies, Schaller is just a little too formal and restrained. Fortunately, the elemental power he can summon from his orchestra for the tuttis and climaxes ensures that nothing ever sounds superficial.

The orchestral playing is excellent throughout, and whatever you might think of either the editions or the interpretations, both are afforded credibility by the commitment of the players. Schaller ensures that ensemble and balance are carefully regulated, so when, for example, the string melody is briefly obscured by the brass in the first symphony Adagio , you can be assured that this is a deliberate and only transitory effect, and so it proves.

These recordings will appeal most to Bruckner specialists with an interest in Carragan’s new editions. The details of his changes are well served by both the precise playing and the patient, controlled conducting. But those looking for an introduction to Bruckner’s early symphonic works—in early or late versions—would probably be better served by more passionate accounts.

FANFARE: Gavin Dixon

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: PH12022

  • UPC: 881488120226

  • Label: Hänssler & Profil

  • Composer: Anton Bruckner

  • Conductor: Gerd Schaller

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Philharmonie Festiva


  1. Symphony no 3 in D minor, WAB 103

    Composer: Anton Bruckner

    Ensemble: Philharmonie Festiva

    Conductor: Gerd Schaller

  2. Symphony no 2 in C minor, WAB 102

    Composer: Anton Bruckner

    Ensemble: Philharmonie Festiva

    Conductor: Gerd Schaller

  3. Symphony no 1 in C minor, WAB 101

    Composer: Anton Bruckner

    Ensemble: Philharmonie Festiva

    Conductor: Gerd Schaller